e-Commerce: The New Boom

India’s Draft Guidelines on Dark Patterns


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Dark patterns advertising

Mains level: Read the attached story

dark patterns

Central Idea

  • The Indian government has invited public feedback on draft guidelines aimed at preventing and regulating “dark patterns” on the internet, particularly within e-commerce platforms.
  • These guidelines target deceptive tactics such as false urgency, basket sneaking, confirm shaming, forced action, subscription traps, and other manipulative practices.

Understanding Dark Patterns

  • The draft guidelines define dark patterns as deceptive design practices that utilize user interface and user experience interactions on any platform.
  • These practices are designed to mislead or trick users into actions they did not initially intend or want to take.
  • Dark patterns undermine consumer autonomy, decision-making, and choice, potentially constituting misleading advertising, unfair trade practices, or violations of consumer rights.

Types of Dark Patterns

  • False urgency” involves falsely conveying or implying a sense of urgency to users.
  • Basket sneaking” entails adding additional items to a user’s cart during the checkout process without their consent.
  • Confirm shaming” uses phrases, videos, audio, or other means to evoke fear, shame, ridicule, or guilt in users.
  • Forced action” compels users to take actions that necessitate purchasing additional goods.
  • Subscription trap” makes it nearly impossible or overly complex for users to cancel paid subscriptions.
  • Interface interference” manipulates the user interface for deceptive purposes.
  • Bait and switch” advertises a specific outcome based on user actions.
  • Drip pricing” conceals elements of prices until later in the transaction.
  • Disguised advertisement” and “nagging” are also defined in the guidelines.

Scope of Application

  • The Ministry states that these guidelines will apply to all individuals and online platforms, including sellers and advertisers.

Challenges in Enforcement

  • Legal experts appreciate the introduction of the draft guidelines but raises concerns about enforcement.
  • They highlight the challenge of conclusively proving whether certain practices qualify as dark patterns.
  • Famous is the example of the “false category” and the difficulty regulators may face in determining if claims like “only 2 rooms remaining – book now!” are genuinely accurate or misleading due to a lack of context.
  • Some categories of dark patterns, such as e-retail sites adding items to users’ carts without their consent, are seen as easier to regulate, while others like “disguised advertisements” may require further clarification.

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