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Subtle online coercions? Govt mulls cracking whip, Retail News, ET Retail


Bengaluru: Did a shopping site sneak an item like a donation into your online shopping basket? Online platforms are using deceptive design patterns using UI/UX (user interface/user experience) interactions to mislead users, thereby violating consumer rights.

The ministry of consumer affairs has issued a discussion paper suggesting new guidelines that check the proliferation of what are called dark patterns, which are used to trick customers into doing something they originally didn’t intend to, or coercing them into certain actions. Kailash Nadh, CTO of India’s largest stock broker Zerodha, said dark patterns, or predatory practices that border on exploitation, have been a bane of consumer technology and services. “I am elated to see a human-centric legal framework emerge that recognizes this menace. After net neutrality, this is perhaps the first technology policy that I fully and wholeheartedly agree with,” he said.

A Zomato spokesperson said curbing patterns that are deceptive or misleading to consumers might help in shaping a safe and trusted online environment. Dark patterns include falsely stating or implying a sense of urgency or scarcity to mislead a user into making an immediate purchase, such as when an online purchase site falsely shows that very few items of a product or seats on a plane are left.

Basket sneaking includes adding additional items such as products, services, payments to charity/donation at the time of checkout from a platform, without the consent of the user, such that the total amount payable by the user is more than the amount payable for the products/services chosen by the user.

Confirm shaming involves using a phrase, video, audio or any other means to create a sense of fear or shame or ridicule or guilt in the mind of the user, so as to nudge the user to act in a certain way that results in the user purchasing a product or service from the platform or continuing a subscription of a service.

There’s subscription trap, which involves making cancellation of a paid subscription impossible or a lengthy process, hiding the cancellation option for a subscription and forcing a user to provide payment details and/or authorisation for auto debits for availing a free subscription, or making the instructions related to cancellation of subscription ambiguous, latent, confusing, cumbersome.

Regulators in the EU, US and UK have acted on such unfair practices. In the US, action has been taken for non-consensual enrolment in subscription programmes and secretly saving credit card information and charging users without consent. In the UK, action has been taken against pressure selling using misleading countdown clocks, and putting in place a cancellation process designed to deter consumers from opting out of subscription.

  • Published On Sep 11, 2023 at 12:25 PM IST

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