Navigating the Web: A Consumer’s defence Against Dark Patterns

Consumers are finding themselves in a wide online landscape in an era of digital convenience. Although there are many advantages of the internet, it is important to stay vigilant against such practices commonly referred to as dark patterns. These subtle design choices alter consumer behaviour, often leading to unintended effects.

                                                                                                                 Rinki Sharma

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution has released directives addressing the prevention and oversight of dark patterns. These guidelines target deceptive design practices that manipulate users, compromising their autonomy and decision-making. Applicable to all platforms offering goods or services in India, along with advertisers and sellers, the regulations fall under the jurisdiction of the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), established by the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. 

The guidelines explicitly forbid any individual or platform from employing dark patterns. They enumerate prohibited practices, such as false urgency, basket sneaking, and forced actions. Non-compliance with these guidelines may result in penalties. These measures are designed to safeguard consumer rights and ensure fair and transparent interactions in the marketplace.

Understanding Dark Patterns: These are user interface design tricks that can be used to direct users in taking actions that they possibly would not have taken willingly.

  • False urgency: Displaying “Limited time offer, only 1 item left!” to pressure users into quick purchases.
  • Basket sneaking: Automatically adding accessories to the cart during online shopping without user consent.
  • Confirm shaming: Using prompts like “Are you sure you want to miss out on this amazing deal?” to guilt users into accepting offers.
  • Forced action: Requiring users to provide personal information before allowing them to exit a website.
  • Subscription trap: Offering a free trial that automatically converts into a paid subscription without clear notification.
  • Interface interference: Placing misleading pop-ups or buttons that divert users to unintended pages.
  • Bait and switch: Advertising a product at a low price but substituting it with a higher-priced alternative.
  • Drip pricing: Showing a base price for a product and gradually adding taxes, fees, and shipping costs during the checkout process.
  • Disguised advertising: Incorporating promotional content seamlessly into an article, making it look like genuine information.
  • Nagging: Continuously prompting users with pop-ups to sign up for newsletters or notifications.

Do’s:

  • Take the time to carefully review all information before making any online transactions. It is crucial to be thorough and informed. 
  • Stay vigilant for any potential hidden costs before finalizing a transaction. Transparent pricing information is key to building trust and credibility online. 
  • Be aware of subscription terms, billing cycles, and cancellation policies to avoid any surprises. Understanding these details empowers consumers to make informed decisions.
  • Take control of your privacy settings on online platforms. By limiting data sharing, you can protect your personal information from unnecessary exposure.
  • When making online purchases, opt for well-established and reputable websites. This adds an extra layer of security to your online transactions.

Don’ts:

  • Consumers should resist the urge to rush through transactions. Taking the time to understand agreements and scrutinize details prevents impulsive decisions.
  • Suspicious pop-ups, especially those urging quick actions, should not be ignored. Verifying the legitimacy of pop-ups ensures protection against potential traps.
  • To ensure safety and security, it is important for users to verify the authenticity of email senders before responding to urgent messages. By avoiding blind trust, individuals can protect themselves from falling prey to fraudulent emails. 
  • Reacting hastily to urgency tactics can lead to regrettable decisions. By resisting the pressure to make impulsive choices, consumers can guard themselves against online scams. Protecting personal data starts with being mindful of the information shared online.
  •  Limiting the disclosure of unnecessary details during transactions is crucial in safeguarding sensitive information. 

By staying informed and making wise choices, individuals can empower themselves against online manipulation. Practicing caution and following best practices can equip consumers with the confidence and security needed to navigate the digital landscape. Your Online Safety Matters!

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