In a significant development, the government has directed e-commerce companies to establish a self-regulatory framework to address the issue of ‘dark patterns’, according to Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Singh. During a stakeholder meeting, Singh emphasized that the e-commerce sector has been particularly implicated in the employment of dark patterns and outlined plans to formulate the framework within the next two months.
Dark patterns are deliberate practices that exploit consumers on the internet, such as surreptitiously adding items to a shopping cart, altering product prices during checkout, or creating a false sense of urgency to influence purchasing decisions. Singh has urged major e-commerce players, including Amazon, Flipkart, Swiggy, and Zomato, to collaborate with the Advertising Standards Council of India and legal firms to devise a self-regulatory mechanism that will help curb such practices.
Singh stressed the importance of education and awareness, as consumers and sellers on e-commerce platforms are often unaware of the manipulative techniques employed by intermediaries to maximize sales. Should these practices persist despite heightened awareness and the implementation of a self-regulatory framework, the government may consider introducing regulations to address the issue. Singh highlighted that the current consumer protection laws encompass a broad range of unfair trade practices, including dark patterns.
However, Singh cautioned against taking enforcement action against errant brands, as it may have unintended consequences. Therefore, the government is adopting a gradual approach to address the matter.
Manisha Kapoor, Chief Executive of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), revealed that the ad industry’s self-regulatory body will soon issue guidelines specifically pertaining to dark patterns. Kapoor emphasized that dark patterns extend beyond advertising and encompass various areas such as transactions and subscriptions.
While some e-commerce firms argue that they merely act as marketplaces without complete control over the practices employed, Kapoor asserted that this stance will be challenged.
Singh further emphasized that e-commerce companies like Amazon and Flipkart should recognize that consumers’ trust in their brands is what drives their business. Consequently, they cannot evade responsibility and must assume some liability in the event of any mishaps.
Singh drew a distinction between e-commerce players and the state-promoted Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC), explaining that the latter is a protocol encompassing buyers, sellers, and marketplaces such as Amazon and Flipkart.
The government’s call for a self-regulatory framework underscores the commitment to addressing dark patterns in the e-commerce sector, ensuring consumer protection and trust in online transactions.