Dark patterns, also known as deceptive patterns, is a term used to describe ways or tricks implemented by websites or apps to make users do things that they didn’t intend to, or discourage behaviour that’s not beneficial for companies.
The term dark patterns was coined by Harry Brignull, a London-based user experience (UX) designer, in 2010.
Think of that annoying advertisement that keeps popping up on your screen, and you can’t find the cross mark ‘X’ to make it go away because the mark is too small to notice (or to click/ tap). Worse, when you try to click/ tap on the tiny ‘X’, you sometimes end up tapping the ad instead.
For example Instagram allows users to deactivate their account through the app, but they must visit the website if they want to delete the account.
The Consumer Affairs Ministry has identified nine types of dark patterns being used by e-commerce companies. Most of these are also listed on deceptive design.
* False urgency: Creates a sense of urgency or scarcity to pressure consumers into making a purchase or taking an action;
* Basket sneaking: Dark patterns are used to add additional products or services to the shopping cart without the user’s consent;
* Confirm shaming: Uses guilt to make consumers adhere; criticises or attacks consumers for not conforming to a particular belief or viewpoint;
* Forced action: Pushes consumers into taking an action they may not want to take, such as signing up for a service in order to access content;
* Nagging: Persistent criticism, complaints, and requests for action;
* Subscription traps: Easy to sign up for a service but difficult to quit or cancel; option is hidden or requires multiple steps;
* Bait & switch: Advertising a certain product/ service but delivering another, often of lower quality;
* Hidden costs: Hiding additional costs until consumers are already committed to making a purchase;
* Disguised ads: Designed to look like content, such as news articles or user-generated content.
Global Laws Against Dark Patterns: Several governments across the globe have defined ‘dark patterns’ and brought in strict laws against them.
US: In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] has taken note of dark patterns and the risks they pose. In a report released in September 2022 year, the regulatory body listed over 30 dark patterns, many of which are considered standard practice across social media platforms and e-commerce sites. FTC report outlined its legal action against Amazon in 2014, for a supposedly “free” children’s app that fooled its young users into making in-app purchases that their parents had to pay for.
EU: The European Union has enacted Digital Services Act (DSA) to curb the menace of dark pattern and create a safer digital space in which the fundamental rights of all users of digital services are protected. DSA regulates digital services that act as “intermediaries” in their role of connecting consumers with content, goods and services. This means not only are the likes of Facebook and Google within the scope of the bill, but also Amazon and app stores. Violations carry the threat of a fine of 6% of global turnover and, in the most serious cases, a temporary suspension of the service.
Regulatory Framework in India:
Consumer Protection Act 2019:
- Deceptive patterns that manipulate consumer choice and impede their right to be well informed constitute unfair practices that are prohibited under the Consumer Protection Act 2019.
Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA):
- It is one of the two Departments under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution. Implementation of Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI):
- It is an independent, voluntary self-regulatory organization formed in 1985 by professionals from the advertising and media industry to keep Indian ads decent.
- It aims to ensure advertisements in India are fair, honest and are compliant with the ASCI Code.