India’s recent actions to control deceptive e-commerce tactics, referred to as “dark patterns,” are a delayed yet commendable move. The government’s engagement with industry players and consumer advocacy organizations has culminated in the release of preliminary guidelines aimed at curbing dark patterns. This is open for public input by October 5, and is expected to bring the necessary focus to this pressing problem.
GS2- Government Policies and Intervention
What do you understand by dark patterns? Examine the issues associated with it. What should be India’s approach in dealing with dark patterns? (15 marks, 250 words).
About Dark Patterns:
- In 2010, the British user experience researcher Harry Brignull introduced the term “dark patterns.”
Although profit-driven dark patterns had started to emerge by then, consumers were not fully aware of the consequences related to their privacy, as well as the expenditure of their time, energy, and money.
- Examples of these dark patterns have now become widespread. They include the automatic selection of travel insurance when booking flight tickets, the obligatory requirement to provide email addresses or phone numbers to access e-commerce websites, which are subsequently used for unsolicited text messages or emails that are difficult to block, and birthday greetings designed to encourage users to purchase gifts for themselves.
- In today’s era, characterized as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, major internet technology companies have systematically amassed the behavioral data of digital users to market their own products or third-party offerings. This has resulted in profits that often surpass the combined Gross Domestic Products of multiple nations.
Global Efforts to regulate dark patterns:
With a growing awareness of the excessive profit-driven tactics employed by online e-commerce, governments are rushing to establish regulations for this industry and its trading practices.
|European Union||European Data Protection Board has issued guidelines on how to identify and avoid dark patterns on social media platforms.|
|United States||United States’ Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning about the “increasing use of sophisticated dark patterns designed to deceive and ensnare consumers.”|
Efforts by India:
The Indian guidelines provide specific instructions for recognizing and preventing deceptive tactics such as
• false urgency,
• stealthily adding items to a shopping cart (basket sneaking),
• using guilt or pressure to manipulate decisions (confirm shaming),
• compelling users into actions they may not want (forced action),
• and ensnaring users in subscription traps on online platforms.
- According to a 2021 report from the Advertising Standards Council of India, it was estimated that more than half of e-commerce websites employed these dark patterns to promote their products.
- Up until now, India’s initiatives to oversee this industry have primarily focused on preventing tax evasion and safeguarding the concerns of traditional physical retailers.
The renewed emphasis on consumers, coupled with a broader perspective on the necessity of preserving privacy regarding personal information on e-commerce websites and social media platforms, is expected to enhance user trust and guarantee a digital environment that is both safe and secure, as well as open and equitable.