Explained: The draft guidelines for prevention and regulation of 'Dark patterns'

Centre has come out with draft guidelines to curb dark patterns

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The online shopping portals use various means to nudge the consumers to buy more, or often manipulate their choices. Sounds familiar; This is done by introducing certain changes in the design pattern of the online platforms. Such malicious design changes are called dark patterns.

Now, with an aim to safeguard consumer interests against the deceptive practices adopted by online shopping platforms, the Centre has come out with draft guidelines to curb these ‘dark patterns.’ Dark patterns refer to the design or pattern in the online interface in order to trick the consumers or manipulate their choice. 

The government has advised online platforms to not engage in ‘unfair trade practices’ by incorporating dark patterns in their online interface, to manipulate consumer choice and violate ‘consumer rights’, as enshrined under Section 2(9) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.

The draft was readied following the Department of Consumer Affairs’ consultations with various stakeholders in June this year. Subsequently, a task force was formed with representatives drawn from industry associations, advertising council, national law university, and various e-commerce platforms including Google, Flipkart, RIL, Amazon, Go-MMT, Swiggy, Zomato, Ola, Tata CLiQ, Facebook, Meta, Ship Rocket and Go-MMT. 

According to the draft guidelines released, 'Dark patterns' are defined as any practices or deceptive design patterns using UI/UX (user interface/user experience) interactions on any platform; designed to mislead or trick users to do something they originally did not intend or want to do; by subverting or impairing the consumer autonomy, decision making or choice; amounting to misleading advertisement or unfair trade practice or violation of consumer rights. Any violations will be covered under the consumer protection act. 

The draft guidelines define 10 such dark patterns.

‘False Urgency’ means falsely stating or implying the sense of urgency or scarcity, so as to mislead a user into making an immediate purchase or take an immediate action, which may lead to a purchase.

‘Basket sneaking’ means the inclusion of additional items such as products, services, payments to charity/donation at the time of checkout from a platform, without the consent of the user.

‘Confirm shaming’ means using a phrase, video, audio or any other means to create a sense of fear or shame or ridicule or guilt in the mind of the user, so as to nudge the user to act in a certain way that results in the user purchasing a product or service from the platform or continuing a subscription of a service.

‘Forced action’ shall mean forcing a user into taking an action that would require the user to buy any additional goods or subscribe or sign up for an unrelated service, in order to buy or subscribe to the product/service originally intended by the user.

‘Subscription trap’ means the process of making cancellation of a paid subscription impossible or a complex and lengthy process including similar other practices.

‘Interface interference’ means a design element that manipulates the user interface in ways that highlight certain specific information and obscures other relevant information relative to the other information; to misdirect a user from taking an action desired by her.

‘Bait and switch’ means the practice of advertising a particular outcome based on the user’s action but deceptively serving an alternate outcome.

‘Drip pricing’ means a practice whereby-elements of prices are not revealed upfront or are revealed surreptitiously within the user experience. 

‘Disguised advertisement’ means a practice of posing, masking advertisements as other types of content such as user-generated content or new articles or false advertisements.

‘Nagging’ means a dark pattern due to which users face an overload of requests, information, options, or interruptions, unrelated to the intended purchase of goods or services, which disrupts the intended transaction.


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