e-Commerce: The New Boom

Centre puts norms against ‘Dark Patterns’ in Online Ads


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Dark patterns advertising

Mains level: Read the attached story

dark pattern

Central Idea

  • The Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) and the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) have joined forces to tackle unethical advertising practices in India.
  • Within the next two months, the authorities plan to release guidelines to combat dark patterns in Indian advertising.

Understanding Dark Patterns

  • Dark patterns are manipulative marketing techniques that deceive customers through unethical practices.
  • They encompass a wide range of tactics, including creating false urgency, employing subscription traps, and sneaking items into the checkout basket, using disguised advertising, and manipulating prices during checkout.

Types of dark patterns advertising

  • Disguised ads: Presenting advertisements in a way that makes them look like regular content or organic recommendations, deceiving users into engaging with promotional material unknowingly.
  • False urgency: Creating a sense of urgency by displaying countdown timers, limited-time offers, or stock availability to pressure consumers into making quick decisions without fully considering their options.
  • Sneak into basket: Adding additional products or services to the shopping cart without the user’s explicit consent or knowledge, often through pre-selected checkboxes or hidden options.
  • Hidden costs: Concealing or downplaying additional fees, charges, or subscriptions until the final stages of the checkout process, misleading consumers about the actual cost of a product or service.
  • Confirm-shaming: Using manipulative language or guilt-tripping tactics to pressure users into taking a specific action they may not want to, such as subscribing to newsletters or sharing personal information.
  • Roach motel: Making it easy for users to sign up for a service but intentionally creating barriers or complexities when they try to cancel or unsubscribe, making it difficult for them to leave.

Consequences of such ads

Dark patterns can lead to unintended purchases, addiction and overuse of products or services, and privacy violations.

  • Unintended purchases: Dark patterns can manipulate consumers into making purchases they did not intend to make, leading to unnecessary expenses and financial strain.
  • Addiction and overuse: Some dark patterns are designed to create addictive behaviors, keeping consumers engaged with a product or service beyond what is healthy or necessary.
  • Privacy violations: Dark patterns may deceive consumers into unknowingly sharing sensitive personal information, compromising their privacy and leaving them vulnerable to data breaches or identity theft.
  • Psychological manipulation: Dark patterns exploit cognitive biases and psychological vulnerabilities to manipulate consumer behavior, leading to decisions that are not based on informed choices but rather on emotional manipulation.

Why discuss this?

  • Rapid growth of the Indian online space: The substantial expansion of the online sector in India raises concerns about the potential harm caused by dark patterns.
  • Dominance of digital platforms: With digital platforms becoming the primary source of information, goods, and services for consumers, the manipulation of UI/UX design and online choice architecture can significantly impact consumer well-being.

Industry’s Role in Self-Regulation

  • Importance of self-regulation: The consensus among stakeholders is that self-regulation within the industry is crucial to effectively address and counter dark patterns.
  • Sectors to self-regulate: Various sectors, including online shopping, e-ticketing, restaurants, and travel, can adopt self-regulatory measures.

Way forward

  • Providing tools for informed choices: Stakeholders suggested equipping users with browser extensions that can help detect and block dark patterns, enabling them to make more informed decisions.
  • Encouraging reporting: Users are encouraged to report instances of dark patterns, and efforts will be made to raise awareness among small and medium-scale merchants about these deceptive practices.
  • Consensus on self-regulation: All stakeholders unanimously agreed that industry self-regulation plays a pivotal role in countering deceptive online practices and protecting consumers’ interests.
  • Commitment to consumer protection: The meeting concluded with a commitment to continue exploring ways to counter dark patterns and safeguard consumer rights and interests.

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