Ecommerce firms told to create a self-regulatory framework to end 'dark patterns'
Dark patterns refer to practices, which deliberately exploit consumers on the internet, like adding items to a shopping cart even though a user has not opted for it, changing the price of a product at the time of checking out, or even creating a false sense of urgency to advance a buying decision.
The government has taken a serious note of 'dark patterns' and has asked ecommerce firms to create a self-regulatory framework to stop such practices, Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Singh has said.
The ecommerce sector has the largest contribution to dark patterns, and the framework will be created in the next two months, Singh told reporters after a stakeholder meeting.
Dark patterns refer to practices which deliberately exploit the consumers on the internet, like adding items to a shopping cart even though a user has not opted for it, changing the price of a product at the time of checking out, or even creating a false sense of urgency to advance a buying decision.
Singh said he has asked ecommerce players like Amazon, Flipkart, Swiggy, and Zomato, in association with the Advertising Standards Council of India and some law firms to create a self-regulatory framework to help curb such practices.
He said education and awareness are very essential as, many a time, the consumer and seller on a marketplace like an ecommerce platform are not aware of the modus operandi deployed by intermediaries to maximise sales or make a sale happen.
If such practices continue even after awareness and creation of a self-regulatory framework, the government may look at coming up with regulations on the matter, Singh said, adding that the statutes governing consumer protection are very wide right now and dark patterns do fall under unfair trade practices.
However, enforcement of the law by acting against errant brands may be counter-productive, and hence, efforts are being made to take a step-by-step approach at present.
Asci's chief executive Manisha Kapoor said the ad industry's self-regulatory body will be coming out with its guidelines on dark patterns very soon, but added that it is a wider subject concerning areas beyond advertising, like transactions, subscriptions, etc.
"Many (ecommerce firms) say we are marketplaces and do not have full control, but I think we are going to push back on that," she made it clear.
Singh also said that the government has made it clear to ecommerce firms like Amazon and Flipkart that the consumers' trust in the brand gets them to shop on their platform, and hence, they cannot shy away from responsibility and will have to share some liability in case something goes wrong.
He, however, made a distinction between ecommerce players and the state-promoted ONDC (open network for digital commerce), saying the latter is a protocol, which has all the buyers, sellers and also marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart on it.