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Dark Patterns 


Dark Patterns
Dark Patterns

Dark Patterns

Recently, the Indian Department of Consumer Affairs warned e-commerce giants to refrain from using dark patterns which harm consumer interests by influencing their choices.


What are Dark Patterns
What are Dark Patterns
  • Drip Pricing
    • This technique involves gradual revealing of additional costs during the purchase process, leading to the final price being significantly higher than the one initially shown. This leads to confusion and frustration in the consumers who may not have anticipated or budgeted for the hidden charges.
  • Bait and Switch
    • This technique involves attracting the consumers with an enticing offer, only to redirect them to a different, less desirable option resulting in customer disappointment and dissatisfaction.
  • Fake Scarcity
    • Through this technique, the advertisers create a sense of urgency or scarcity, pressuring consumers to make impulsive decisions and rushed purchases.
  • Disguised Ads
    • Advertisements are presented in a deceiving or misleading manner such that it becomes difficult for the users to differentiate between regular content and paid promotions. This results in compromised user trust and undermines their ability to make informed decisions.
  • Confirm Shaming
    • Using this technique, users are pressurized into opting for something they don’t want to, like sharing their contact details or subscribing to a newsletter, by making the other option seem undesirable.
  • Nagging
    • It involves asking the users the same thing again and again through pop-ups or notifications.
  • Pre-selection
    • It is the practice of leaving the checkboxes automatically ticked hoping that the user might not notice it.
  • Visual Interference
    • It is the act of hiding, obscuring, or disguising important information on a page when it should be displayed clearly. This is common in the case of legal details, refund policies, or other particulars a website or app may want a user to miss. It is usually done by using small, low-contrast text or putting information at places where users may not notice.
  • Roach Motel
    • In this technique, signing up for a subscription or service is straightforward, but cancellation for the same is very difficult.
  • Sneak-into-Basket
    • In this technique, additional, unwanted items are placed in a shopper’s basket/cart without their knowledge while using an e-commerce site.
  • Forced Continuity
    • Through this practice the users are deceived into subscribing to paid subscriptions at the end of free trials as it uses credit card details taken at the time of free trial to automatically subscribe users to paid services without warning or requiring any affirmative action from them.

Why Do Companies Use Such Tactics?

E-commerce companies use such practices to-

  1. Maximize the sale of their product or services.
  2. Collect as much user data as possible to generate revenue as the data collected is further used by the companies themselves or transferred to third party advertisers so that user choices can be manipulated by showing them ads based on their data and past choices.

Implications

  1. Financial and Data Exploitation: Making the users save their bank account details or share more personal information leads to enhanced vulnerability to financial and data exploitation.
  2. Confused and Frustrated Users: by introducing online obstacles, making simple tasks time-consuming, forcing them sign up for unwanted services/products, pay more than they intended, lengthy cancellation processes lead to user confusion and frustration.
  3. Violates Right to Privacy: As dark patterns erode individual privacy, it eventually compromises the liberty and dignity of individuals, as they are deprived of their decision-making ability.
  4. Violates Consumer Rights: By incorporating dark patterns in online interface, the companies manipulate consumer choice and violate ‘consumer rights’.

How To Avoid Dark Patterns?
User Perspective
  1. Spending time: More time should be spent on reading terms and conditions before agreeing to them and more attention should be paid to check boxes.
  2. Restrictive Privacy Settings: users should be aware of the information being collected from them and make their privacy settings as restrictive as possible.
  3. Know Your Rights: Users should be familiar with their rights granted by the law of their country to protect their interests as a consumer.
  4. Reporting Offenders: Users should call out offenders publicly on social media, or anonymously report the behavior to Consumer Forums.
  5. Educate Others: Users should stay alert while dealing online, educate others about the same and always take precautions to avoid data and financial loss.
Company Perspective
  1. Stringent Guidelines: should be introduced for the designers to follow.
  2. Favoring User Interest: Websites should be designed with empathy, keeping in mind the user interest.
  3. Prefer user Experience over Number: Instead of focusing on increasing the number of users one should focus on providing the best user experience to satisfy the customer and build a strong customer relationship.
  4. Transparency: The websites should do what it says. The checkboxes, forms, buttons all actions should align with what they are promising to ensure transparency and winning user trust.

Government Perspective

The Governments should come-up with stricter guidelines and a stronger regulatory mechanism to control and tackle the spread of dark patters.


Global Laws Against Dark Patterns
  • USA- States of California and Colorado have passed consumer privacy legislation banning the use of dark patterns, and other states are contemplating doing the same. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the authority to prosecute companies for unfair or deceptive trade practices including the use of dark patterns.
  • In the U.S., the FTC has taken note of dark patterns and their risks. In a report released in September 2022, the regulatory body listed over 30 dark patterns.
  • The FTC report outlined its legal action against Amazon in 2014, for a supposedly free children’s app that fooled to make in-app purchases that their parents had to pay later for.
  • The report also says, as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) platforms and devices grow in usage, dark patterns will likely follow users to these new channels as well.
  • European Union (EU)- The European Data Protection Board adopted “Guidelines on dark patterns in social media platform interfaces” on General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Article 60. These guidelines provide designers and users of social media platforms with practical tips on how to identify and prevent so-called “dark patterns” in social media interfaces that violate GDPR rules.
  • India The Indian Government has constituted a 17-member task force to prepare guidelines on protecting consumers against dark patterns. E-commerce giants have been issued warning by the Central consumer protection authority to refrain from using dark patterns and the proposed Data Protection Bill contains provisions for protecting user data.

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