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Consumer affairs warns E-commerce on dark patterns

The session brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, including representatives from IIT, BHU, and major industry players such as the All India Gaming Federation, Zomato, EaseMyTrip, Urban Company, Uber, and CRED. 

News Arena Network - New Delhi - UPDATED: June 19, 2024, 06:47 AM - 3 mins read

In a significant move to protect consumers from manipulative online practices, the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) conducted a crucial session on Tuesday.

Consumer affairs warns E-commerce on dark patterns


In a significant move to protect consumers from manipulative online practices, the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) conducted a crucial session on Tuesday.

 

Titled “Dark Patterns and Strategies to Implement the Guidelines,” the session focused on deceptive design tactics used by e-commerce platforms and explored effective ways to enforce the “Guidelines for Prevention and Regulation of Dark Patterns, 2023.”

 

The session brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, including representatives from IIT, BHU, and major industry players such as the All India Gaming Federation, Zomato, EaseMyTrip, Urban Company, Uber, and CRED. 

Understanding Dark Patterns

The Guidelines for Prevention and Regulation of Dark Patterns describe these deceptive designs as “any practices or deceptive design patterns using UI/UX (user interface/user experience) interactions on any platform, designed to mislead or trick users to do something they originally did not intend or want to do.”

 

These practices can significantly impact consumer decision-making, classifying them as misleading advertisements, unfair trade practices, or violations of consumer rights.

 

Several methods to combat dark patterns and enhance user interfaces were discussed during the session. Key strategies included:

  • Consumer Feedback: Leveraging consumer insights to identify and rectify dark patterns.
  • Consumer Satisfaction and Repeat User Rate: Prioritizing genuine user satisfaction over manipulative tactics.
  • In-Built Detection Features: Developing apps and features to automatically identify and flag non-compliant patterns.
  • Self-Auditing: Encouraging e-commerce platforms to regularly audit their interfaces for dark patterns.

Students from IIT and BHU showcased a demonstrative video of an extension tool they are developing.

 

This tool uses Large Language Models (LLMs), Generative AI, and other advanced technologies to identify dark patterns on e-commerce platforms and alert users. Industry stakeholders committed to providing datasets to aid in distinguishing deceptive designs from legitimate ones.

 

The guidelines were developed following a consultation with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and other stakeholders in June 2023.

 

A task force was formed, including representatives from ASCI, industry leaders, National Law Universities (NLUs), Voluntary Consumer Organizations (VCOs), and major e-commerce platforms like Google, Flipkart, RIL, Amazon, Swiggy, Zomato, Ola, Tata CLiQ, Facebook, Meta, Ship Rocket, and Go-MMT.

 

Despite the collaborative approach, the draft guidelines faced criticism. The Asia Internet Coalition and the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) highlighted several concerns, such as inadequate definitions, restrictive categorizations, and potential privacy issues.

 

They also noted significant regulatory overlaps with existing regulations like the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, the Consumer Protection (E-Commerce) Rules, 2020, ASCI Dark Pattern Guidelines, Misleading Ads Guidelines, and the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023.

 

The IFF suggested that while sectoral regulators could conduct compliance assessments, the guidelines could serve as a public-facing resource for consumers to report dark patterns.

 

They recommended establishing a dedicated portal for consumers and civil society to report new instances of these patterns.

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