Govt seeks public comments on draft guidelines for regulation of dark patterns on online platforms

The ministry said it is committed to safeguarding consumer interests and promoting a fair and transparent marketplace, especially in the increasingly expanding and penetrative digital space.
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.

NEW DELHI: The government has sought public comments on draft guidelines for the prevention and regulation of "dark patterns" which are nothing but tactics used by online players to deceive customers or manipulate their choices.

The draft guidelines, issued by the Consumer Affairs Ministry, list various deceptive practices being adopted by online platforms in the nature of dark patterns which are against the interests of consumers.

The ministry has sought public comments/suggestions on the draft guidelines within 30 days till October 5, an official statement said.

According to the draft guidelines, "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 into doing 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.

Under the guidelines, around 10 dark patterns have been specified.

They are: false urgency, basket sneaking, confirm shaming, forced action, subscription trap, interface interference, bait and switch, drip pricing, disguised advertisement and nagging.

"False Urgency" means falsely stating or implying a sense of urgency or scarcity so as to mislead a user into making an immediate purchase or taking 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, such that the total amount payable by the user is more than the amount payable for the products and/or services chosen by the user.

"Confirm shaming" means using a phrase, video, audio or any other means to create a sense of fear or 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 purchasing a product or service from the platform or continuing a subscription of a service.

"Forced action" means 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 (a) highlights certain specific information; and (b) 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; and/or other such practices.

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

Whereas "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.

Under the draft guidelines, certain specified dark patterns have been defined and illustrated with examples to bring more clarity.

According to the ministry, the guidelines would be made applicable to all persons and online platforms including sellers and advertisers.

The objective of the guidelines is to identify and regulate such practices which tend to manipulate or alter consumer choices, often by using deceptive or misleading techniques or manipulated user interfaces/web designs.

"Thus, the proposed Guidelines seek to oversee such practices which are prejudicial to the consumer interests," the statement said.

The draft guidelines have been framed after detailed deliberations with all stakeholders, including e-commerce platforms, law firms, government and voluntary consumer organisations.

The ministry said it is committed to safeguarding consumer interests and promoting a fair and transparent marketplace, especially in the increasingly expanding and penetrative digital space.

"The proposed guidelines will further strengthen the industry and protect consumer interests," it added.

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