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Guidelines to Curb Dark Patterns

  • Context (TH): The Consumer Affairs Secretary stated that certain online malpractices by airlines and travel portals, usingdark patterns” in the website interface to deceive consumers, are “cybercrime.”
  • Dark pattern is a deceptive practice employed to influence user behaviour in a way that benefits the company implementing it.
  • For example, when we receive a pop-up request for personal information, we find locating the ‘reject or close’ link/button challenging.
  • Protection: Deceptive patterns that manipulate consumer choice and impede their right to be well-informed constitute unfair practices prohibited under the Consumer Protection Act 2019.

Guidelines to Curb Dark Patterns

  • In September 2023, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs (MoCA) released draft guidelines to curb “dark patterns” online platforms use.
  • The objective is to identify and define tactics as dark patterns so the MoCA can act against platforms indulging in this under Section 18 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
  • According to the draft document, “dark patterns” encompass:
    • Any practices or deceptive design patterns within UI/UX (user interface/experience) interactions.
    • Purposefully crafted manipulative triggers that trick the user into taking an action.
    • Undermining consumer autonomy, decision-making, or choice, ultimately leading to misleading advertising, unfair trade practices, or violations of consumer rights.
  • The document specifies ten types of dark patterns: False urgency, basket sneaking, confirm shaming, forced action, subscription trap, interface interference, bait and switch, drip pricing, disguised advertising, and nagging.

Dark patterns with examples

  • False Urgency: Falsely stating the urgency/scarcity to make someone buy something quickly. (E.g., Hurry Up! Only a few are left in stock).
  • Basket sneaking: Inclusion of additional items such as products, services, payments to charity/donation at the time of checkout from a platform without the user’s consent.
  • Confirm shaming: Using a phrase, video, audio, or any other means to create a sense of fear, shame, ridicule, or guilt in the user’s mind to nudge the user to act in a certain way.
  • Forced action: Forcing a user into taking an action requiring the user to buy any additional good(s) or subscribe or sign up for an unrelated service.
  • Nagging: Users face an overload of requests, information, options, or interruptions.
  • Bait and switch: Advertising a particular outcome based on the user’s action but deceptively serving an alternate outcome.
  • Interface interference: A design element that manipulates the user interface to highlight certain specific information and obscure other relevant information.
    • For instance, On IndiGo’s mobile application, the skip option is placed in the top right corner but displayed in a tiny font.
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