On June 28, we wrote a tough letter and asked them to stop this, otherwise will take action: Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh
The department is also looking to issue guidelines in a couple of months to rein in dark patterns if the industry continues to use them
The consumer affairs department made it clear that continuing to employ such behaviours would constitute ‘unfair trade practice’
The Department of Consumer Affairs has warned ecommerce platforms against the use of ‘dark patterns’ in their user interface. To that extent, the department has written a letter to major ecommerce platforms, a senior official said on Friday (June 30).
Department secretary Rohit Kumar Singh told the media, “We took a soft approach and told them on June 13 not to indulge in this. On June 28, we wrote a tough letter and asked them to stop this, otherwise will take action”.
He also indicated the department’s intent to issue guidelines ‘in a couple of months’ on the matter if the industry does not comply voluntarily.
In the letter, Singh said the government has strongly advised online platforms to not engage in ‘unfair trade practices’ by incorporating dark patterns in their online interface to manipulate consumer choice and violate ‘consumer rights’ as enshrined under Section 2(9) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
Describing what dark patterns are, the department said in a press statement, “It is pertinent to note that dark patterns involve using a design and choice architecture to trick, coerce or influence consumers to make choices not in their best interest.”
The consumer affairs department made it clear that continuing to employ such behaviours would constitute ‘unfair trade practice’ and would leave an ecommerce platform liable to coercive action by the department.
The consumer affairs secretary added that dark patterns have caught the attention of the government and the consumer affairs department.
“We were not aware of the dark patterns. Then we started reading what is happening in other geographies and countries and realised that this is a big problem. We have identified nine dark patterns and told the industry not to indulge in them,” he said.
Some of these dark patterns include False Urgency, Subscription Traps, Confirm Shaming, Forced Action, Bait and Switch and Hidden Costs.
To be sure, many ecommerce platforms engage in several of these behaviours, which are baked into their apps and websites in a bid to create a ‘funnel’ to drive conversion rates on their platforms.
In June, the consumer affairs department held a consultation with major ecommerce marketplaces and other industry stakeholders to address the issue of dark patterns. The government also asked the ecommerce industry to create a self-regulatory framework.
Last month, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) released guidelines on ‘Online Deceptive Design Patterns in Advertising’ to counter dark patterns in digital ads.
The government also urged consumers to report instances of dark patterns and report manipulative online practices on the National Consumer Helpline (NCH) by calling ‘1915’ or through WhatsApp at 8800001915.