Govt notifies draft rules to prohibit dark patterns for public consultation

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The central government on 7 September sought public feedback on draft guidelines aimed at prohibiting “dark patterns” by digital business operators.

The guidelines prohibit about 10 dark patterns like false urgency, basket sneaking, confirm shaming, forced action, disguised advertising, subscription trap and more such “dark patterns”. The public can comment on the guidelines uploaded on the Union Consumer Affairs Ministry’s website till October 5.

It is worth noting that the ministry on 28 June 2023 formed a 17 member taskforce in identification and regulation of dark patterns. These guidelines were finalised after an elaborate discussion with representatives of Amazon, Flipkart, Google, Meta, Ola Cabs, Swiggy, Zomato, Ship Rocket, Go-MMT, and Nasscom, who were members of the Task Force.

According to the consumers affairs ministry, 5 meetings of the members of the Task Force were held, wherein inputs for draft policy were taken from all the members of the Task Force.The Task Force submitted the draft guidelines to ministry last month.

A letter was also sent out by the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) on June 28 to major online platforms in India asking them to desist from using dark patterns.

Disguised advertisement is defined as a practice of posing, masking advertisements as other types of content such as user generated content or new articles or false advertisements.  False Urgency means falsely stating or implying the sense of urgency or scarcity so as to mislead a user into making an immediate purchase or take an immediate action, which may lead to a purchase. Diguised advertising and False Urgency are common in the real money gaming sector.

Dark patterns are a common phenomenon  of many apps and websites. The EU’s Consumer Protection Cooperation Network, recently conducted a survey of 399 retail websites and apps for dark patterns, and found that nearly 4 out of every 10 retail websites rely on manipulative practices to exploit consumers’ vulnerabilities or trick them.