Centre puts e-commerce dark patterns on notice | Mint
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Business News/ News / India/  Centre puts e-commerce dark patterns on notice

Centre puts e-commerce dark patterns on notice

E-commerce companies in India will face penalties for using 'dark patterns' to trick users into unintended actions, according to guidelines issued by the Central Consumer Protection Authority

The CCPA order, effective 30 November, lists 13 dark patterns.Premium
The CCPA order, effective 30 November, lists 13 dark patterns.

New Delhi: The Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) on Thursday notified guidelines to prevent deceptive behaviour of e-commerce companies by defining certain wrongful practices known as ‘dark patterns’ as offences under consumer protection law.

Dark patterns, intended to trick users to take unintended actions such as making purchase decisions, amount to misleading advertisement or unfair trade practice or violation of consumer rights, CCPA said in an order effective 30 November. The order lists 13 dark patterns.

“No person, including any platform, shall engage in any dark pattern practice," the guidelines said.

Guidelines to bring dark patterns under strict regulation was a demand of consumer forums after CCPA’s establishment in July 2020.

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.

Dark patterns are defined as any practice or “deceptive design pattern" using user interface or user experience interactions on any platform that is designed to mislead or trick users to do something they originally did not intend or want to do.

These practices include those subverting or impairing consumer autonomy, decision-making, or choice.

Specific patterns include creation of “false urgency" to mislead a user into creating a sense of scarcity and then luring them into a purchase; “basket sneaking", where the inclusion of additional items such that the total amount payable by the user is more than the amount payable for the product; “subscription trap" to make cancellation of a paid subscription impossible or force a user to provide payment details or authorization for auto debits for availing a free subscription, among others.

“Any person, including any platform, shall be considered to be engaging in a dark pattern practice if it engages in any (of these) practice(s)," the notification said.

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 an ‘exclusive’ sale 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".

The guidelines also mention “confirm shaming", a practice where a phrase, video, audio, or any other means is used to create a sense of fear, shame, 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’s purchasing being changed. This will also be considered a dark pattern.

For instance, a platform for booking flight tickets using the phrase “I will stay unsecured" when a user does not include insurance in their cart, and a platform that adds a charity to the basket without the user’s consent, are now brought under the guidelines.

“Forced action," where users end up buying additional goods, subscribing to or signing up for an unrelated service, etc., is also brought under the purview of dark pattern guidelines.

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Published: 01 Dec 2023, 11:20 PM IST
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