Why is it in the news?

Recently, the Centre has introduced draft guidelines for the prevention and regulation of “dark patterns” on the Internet, with a focus on e-commerce platforms.

Definition of Dark Patterns

  • Dark patterns are defined in the draft guidelines as practices or deceptive design patterns using user interface or user experience interactions on any platform.
  • These patterns are designed to mislead or trick users into actions they did not originally intend or want to take, thus impairing consumer autonomy and choice.
  • Dark patterns are considered as misleading advertisements or unfair trade practices, violating consumer rights.

Types of Dark Patterns

The draft guidelines identify various types of dark patterns, including:

  • False Urgency: Creating a false sense of urgency.
  • Basket Sneaking: Adding additional items to the user’s cart during checkout without their consent.
  • Confirm Shaming: Using fear, shame, ridicule, or guilt to influence user decisions.
  • Forced Action: Forcing users into actions that require buying additional goods.
  • Subscription Trap: Making cancellation of paid subscriptions difficult.
  • Interface Interference: Manipulating user interface elements.
  • Bait and Switch: Advertising a particular outcome based on user actions.
  • Drip Pricing: Not revealing all price elements upfront.
  • Disguised Advertisement: Presenting content as non-promotional when it’s advertising.
  • Nagging: Persistent and annoying prompts.

Applicability

The guidelines are intended to be applicable to all individuals and online platforms, including sellers and advertisers.

Enforcement Challenges

  • Some experts caution that enforcing these guidelines might be challenging, particularly in cases where determining whether a practice qualifies as a dark pattern is not straightforward.
    • For instance, accurately assessing the legitimacy of claims like “only 2 rooms remaining – book now!” may pose challenges.

How Companies, including social media and Big Tech firms, employ dark patterns for their benefit?

  • Amazon:
  • Faced criticism in the European Union for a complex cancellation process for Amazon Prime subscriptions.
    • They later simplified the process in 2022 for online customers in European countries.
  • LinkedIn:
    • Users often receive unsolicited sponsored messages from influencers.
    • Disabling this option is a challenging process that involves multiple steps, requiring users to be familiar with platform controls.
  • Google-owned YouTube:
    • Nags users to sign up for YouTube Premium through pop-ups that obscure the final seconds of a video with thumbnails of other videos.

Global efforts to combat dark patterns

  • California, USA: Passed amendments to the California Consumer Privacy Act in March 2021, prohibiting dark patterns that obstructed consumers from exercising their privacy rights.
  • United Kingdom: Issued guidelines in April 2019, later enforceable under the Data Protection Act, 2018, to restrict companies from employing manipulative tactics to attract underage users into low privacy settings.

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