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The Indian government has taken a definitive step to protect consumers from deceptive practices in the digital marketplace. On November 30, 2023, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) issued a gazette notification banning “dark patterns” used by e-commerce platforms. This move aims to ensure fair and transparent online shopping experiences for consumers.

What are “dark patterns”?

Dark patterns are design elements or user interfaces intentionally crafted to manipulate consumers into making unintended or unwanted decisions. These often involve subtle psychological manipulation tactics, such as:

  • Hidden costs: Adding additional charges during checkout that were not clearly disclosed upfront.
  • Confusing layouts: Making it difficult for users to compare prices or cancel subscriptions.
  • Urgency tactics: Using phrases like “limited time offer” or “only a few left” to create pressure to buy.
  • Pre-ticked boxes: Opting users into unwanted services or subscriptions by default.

Impact of the ban:

With the implementation of this ban, e-commerce platforms can no longer employ such deceptive practices. This protects consumers from:

  • Unintentional purchases: Consumers are less likely to be tricked into buying something they didn’t intend to buy.
  • Hidden fees: All costs must be transparently displayed upfront, preventing surprise charges during checkout.
  • Unwanted subscriptions: Consumers have the freedom to choose whether they want to subscribe to a service and can easily opt out if they change their mind.

Guidelines for compliance:

The CCPA has also notified “Guidelines for Prevention and Regulation of Dark Patterns” outlining specific practices that are now considered offenses under consumer protection law. These include:

  • Confusing or misleading user interfaces.
  • Hidden or manipulative features.
  • Time pressure tactics.
  • Bait and switch offers.
  • Subscription traps and auto-renewal.

Consequences of non-compliance:

E-commerce platforms found using dark patterns will be subject to penalties, including:

  • Financial fines: Companies can face hefty fines for violating the guidelines.
  • Cease and desist orders: Platforms may be ordered to stop using specific dark patterns.
  • Injunctions: Courts may issue injunctions prohibiting the platform from engaging in deceptive practices.

Overall, the ban on dark patterns is a major victory for consumer protection in India. It empowers consumers and promotes fair and ethical practices in the digital marketplace.