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Government bans use of 'dark patterns' on e-commerce platforms, notifies guidelines

Dark patterns amount to misleading advertisement or unfair trade practice or violation of consumer rights, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) said in a notification

Our Special Correspondent New Delhi Published 03.12.23, 08:45 AM
Feel no pressure

Feel no pressure Sourced by the Telegraph

The government has banned use of “dark patterns” on e-commerce platforms which intend to deceive customers or manipulate their choices.

Dark patterns amount to misleading advertisement or unfair trade practice or violation of consumer rights, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) said in a notification. It lists 13 dark patterns.

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The “guidelines for prevention and regulation of dark patterns” is applicable to all platforms offering goods and services in India, and even advertisers and sellers.

Analysts said if have you ever felt pressured to buy something online because of a countdown timer, a limited-time offer, or a pop-up message that says “only three items left in stock... you have probably fallen victim to a dark pattern.

Similarly, if you have agreed to share your personal data or location without reading the fine print, just to get rid of a nagging notification, you have given in to a deceptive design that can trick or manipulate users into doing things they might not otherwise do.

They are widely used by websites and apps, from retailers and travel services to social media companies, to influence our behaviour and choices online, they added.

Resorting to dark patterns will lead to a penalty under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act. The notification, however, did not state the quantum of penalty to be imposed for violation.

The notified guidelines will ensure clarity in the minds of all stakeholders — buyers, sellers, marketplaces and regulators — as to what is not acceptable as unfair trading practices, the latter being liable under the Consumer Protection Act, he added.

E-commerce players will also face a penalty for deceiving consumers by pushing news articles or false advertisements, which are designed to blend in with the rest of an interface in order to trick customers into clicking on them, the notification said.

Guidelines for the prevention of misleading advertisements and endorsements for misleading advertisements, 2022 will also be applicable on e-commerce entities, it said.

According to the notification, dark patterns will also include showing false popularity of a product or service to manipulate user decisions.

Tricks by travel aggregators like “only 2 rooms left! 30 others are looking at this right now” would constitute a dark pattern.

Similarly, creating time-bound pressure to make a purchase, such as describing a sale as ‘exclusive’ for a limited time only for a select group of users, will come under the dark pattern definition.

The guidelines also said the automatic addition of paid ancillary services with a pre-ticked box or otherwise to the cart when a consumer is purchasing a product or service; a user purchasing a single salon service, but while checking out, a subscription to the salon service is automatically added; automatically adding travel insurance while a user purchases a flight ticket will all be considered “basket-sneaking”.

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