Grey areas in the regulation of ‘dark patterns’

GS Paper II

News Except:

Recently, the Department of Consumer Affairs released the draft “Guidelines for Prevention and Regulation of Dark Patterns, 2023” (“DP Guidelines”) issued under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (“CP Act”) prohibiting platforms from engaging in any “dark patterns”.

What are Dark Patterns?

  • According to these rules, some behaviours are classified as "dark patterns" that could result in CP Act prosecution. 
  • A dark pattern refers to a design or user interface technique intentionally crafted to manipulate users into making certain choices or taking specific actions that may not be in their best interest or that they may not want to accept. 
  • Creating a false feeling of urgency or scarcity, tricking customers into making an instant purchase, making it difficult to cancel subscription services, and disguising adverts as user-generated content are some examples of these tactics.
  • It is a deceptive practice employed to influence user behaviour in a way that benefits the company implementing it.

Grey Areas: 

  • Dark patterns can harm consumers by misleading them into making unintended choices. For example, users might end up subscribing to services they didn't want or make purchases they didn't intend to. 
    • Regulatory intervention can protect consumers from such practices, ensuring they can make informed decisions online. 
  • Online platforms often force consumers to make unintended choices, and curbing this will need cross-sectional laws. 

Global Regulation: 

  • The regulatory efforts to address dark patterns are underway in various parts of the world, including the European Union and the USA. 
  • In the EU, the Digital Services Act and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provide guidelines and regulations related to dark patterns. 
  • In the USA, some states have implemented privacy laws to prohibit such practices, and the Federal Trade Commission has taken action against platforms using dark patterns.
  • In India, the Department of Consumer Affairs has released draft guidelines for the prevention and regulation of dark patterns under the Consumer Protection Act 2019. 
  • These New guidelines aim to prohibit practices that create a false sense of urgency, complicate subscription cancellations, and mask advertisements as user-generated content. This aligns with the broader global trend of addressing dark patterns.

Way forward in regulation:

  • Regulating dark patterns often requires an interdisciplinary approach. 
  • Experts in behavioural science, data analysis, and user experience design can help identify and address these patterns. 
  • Understanding how online consent architectures work and their potential harms is crucial for effective regulation.
  • There can be overlaps between dark pattern regulation and data protection laws, such as the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 (DPDP Act) in India. These laws may also play a role in protecting consumers' rights and data privacy. Ensuring coordination and avoiding regulatory conflicts between different laws is essential.
  • Given the multifaceted nature of the issue, inter-regulatory coordination is critical. Regulatory bodies responsible for consumer protection, data privacy, and the digital economy must work together to develop a cohesive framework for addressing dark patterns.
  • Alongside consumer awareness campaigns and the development of tools to help customers identify such practices, regulation of such "dark patterns" is necessary.
  • The DP Guidelines allow such behaviours to be classified as "dark patterns," even though they designate "Specific Dark Patterns" that are grounds for noncompliance. Companies will need to take another look at their interface design to make sure that the UI/UX design meets these requirements.


Prelims PYQ

Q. With reference to consumers rights/privileges under the provisions of law in India, which of the following statements is/are correct?

(UPSC -2012)

1) Consumers are empowered to take samples for food testing.

2) When a consumer files a complaint in any consumer forum, no fee is required to be paid.

3) In case of death of a consumer, his/her legal heir can file a complaint in the consumer forum on his/her behalf.

Select the correct answer using the codes given below:

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

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