Centre to issue norms against ‘dark patterns’ in online ads

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The Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs has decided to issue specific guidelines to control the increasing use of ‘dark patterns’ in misleading advertisements, creating false urgency, confirm-shaming, forced action, subscription traps and nagging on online platforms. What are dark patterns?
  • Dark Patterns are unethical UI/UX (user interface/user experience) interactions, designed to mislead or trick users to make them do something they don’t want to do.
  • In turn, they benefit the company or platform employing the designs.
  • By using dark patterns, digital platforms take away a user’s right to full information about the services they are using and their control over their browsing experience.
About the move:
  • The Ministry ordered to all major online platforms advising them not to 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.
Section (2) permits the publication of any advertisement whether in any newspaper or otherwise, for the sale or supply at a bargain price, of goods or services that are not intended to be offered for sale or supply at the bargain price, or for a period that is, and in quantities that are, reasonable.
  • The mentioned tactics includes ‘false urgency’ which creates a sense of urgency or scarcity to pressure consumers into making a purchase or taking an action and basket sneaking, the technique to add additional products or services to the shopping cart without user consent are used widely to lure customers.
  • ‘Subscription traps’, the tactic that makes it easy for consumers to sign up for a service but difficult for them to cancel it, and hiding additional costs, particularly by travel and tourism websites, have also come under the Ministry’s radar.
  • The government mentioned that using ‘dark patterns’ in online interfaces unfairly exploits consumers’ interest and constitutes ‘unfair trade practice’ under the present laws.
Why dark patterns are a matter of concern?
  • Dark patterns initially, do not appear to be illegal. However, in some cases, dark patterns can be said to have been used to commit illegal acts.
  • For example, if a company uses a dark pattern to trick someone into buying something they don’t want or need, that could be considered fraud in general.
Need for a legislation:
  • Dark patterns endanger the experience of Internet users and make them more vulnerable to financial and data exploitation by Big Tech firms.
  • Dark patterns confuse users, introduce online obstacles, make simple tasks time-consuming, have users sign up for unwanted services/products, and force them to pay more money or share more personal information than they intended.
Present laws in India:
  • Currently, there is no such law to deal with dark patterns, however the Consumer protection Act of 2019, deals with the provisions of illegal and forceful acts on consumers and their rights.
  • Under the broad framework of the Consumer Protection Act, it disbands “manipulating consumer choices is an unfair trade practice.”
  • To deal with the complaints of dark patterns, Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) is responsible.

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