CCI to focus on ‘Dark Patterns’ of BigTech Firms

CCI to focus on ‘Dark Patterns’ of BigTech Firms
Photo: freepik.com 01.07.2024 484

The CCI chairperson said this at an event organized by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

India’s antitrust watchdog is focussing on “dark patterns” used by BigTech to mislead customers. On Friday, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) chairperson Ravneet Kaur said that even though the entire focus in the AI space is around deepfakes, but there are also cases of dark patterns.

The dark patterns are defined as unlawful patterns that trick or manipulate users to share sensitive information or make choices they would not otherwise have made and that may cause harm. 

“There’s also a case of dark patterns and how they can influence the conduct of digital companies and how people can be conditioned to make certain choices. So, that could have some competition implications. We could have algorithmic collusion as another form of collusion, which can be anti-competitive,”

CCI chairperson said.

The CCI is currently in the process of finalizing an agency to conduct a market study on artificial intelligence and competition. “We will be shortly finalizing the agency,” Kaur said.

Last December, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) identified and banned 13 dark patterns employed by e-commerce websites in India, including false urgency, forced action, subscription trap, bait and switch, disguised ads, nagging and trick question.

False Urgency refers to the deceptive practice of falsely conveying or implying a sense of urgency or scarcity to mislead users into making immediate purchases or taking prompt actions, potentially resulting in a purchase. 

E.g.:  The hotel booking site says: “Only 2 rooms left! 30 others are looking at this right now”

Forced Action refers to the practice of compelling a user to take an action that necessitates purchasing additional goods, subscribing to unrelated services, signing up for other services, or sharing personal information. This is done in connection with the user’s original intent to buy or subscribe to a particular product or service.

E.g.: The app is forcing a user to share details of their contacts (LinkedIn case) or social networks to access products or services they have purchased or intend to purchase.

Basket Sneaking has been defined as the practice of including additional items, such as products, services, payments to charity, or donations, during the checkout process on a platform without the explicit consent of the user. This results in the total amount payable by the user exceeding the amount intended for the chosen product or service.

E.g.: The automatic addition of a subscription to a salon service when a user buys a single service, and the automatic inclusion of travel insurance when a user purchases a flight ticket.

Confirmshaming is the practice of employing phrases, videos, audio, or any other means to instil a sense of fear, shame, ridicule, or guilt in the user’s mind. 

E.g.: A flight ticket booking platform using the phrase “I will stay unsecured” when a user opts not to include insurance in their cart.

Subscription Trap involves tactics such as making the cancellation of a paid subscription overly complex or impossible, hiding the cancellation option, compelling users to provide payment details for auto-debits even for ostensibly free subscriptions, and employing ambiguous or confusing instructions regarding the cancellation process. These practices hinder users from easily opting out of subscriptions, potentially leading to unintended and continued financial commitments.

Bait and Switch is a deceptive practice that involves advertising a specific outcome based on the user’s action and then providing an alternative outcome that differs from what was initially presented.

E.g.: A seller advertising a high-quality product at a low price, but when the consumer is ready to make a purchase, claiming the product is unavailable and offering a similar-looking but more expensive item. 

Disguised Ads refers to the practice of presenting advertisements in a manner that conceals their true nature, making them appear as other types of content, such as user-generated content, news articles, or false advertisements.

E.g.: Softpedia, a popular software download website, often uses disguised ads on their software download pages to boost ad revenue. Their approach involves displaying advertisements with a prominent download button that closely resembles the actual download button for the desired software. This leads users to mistakenly click on the ad, thinking they are downloading the software.

Nagging is a dark pattern practice characterized by the repeated and persistent disruption and annoyance of a user through continuous interactions, requests, information, options, or interruptions to facilitate a transaction and achieve commercial gains unless explicitly permitted by the user. 

E.g.: Websites repeatedly prompting a user to download their app, platforms persistently requesting users to provide personal details under the guise of security purposes, and constant requests to enable notifications or accept cookies with no option to decline.

Tricky question refers to the intentional use of confusing or vague language, such as confusing wording, double negatives, or other similar tricks, with an aim to mislead or divert a user from taking the desired action or prompting a specific response or action.

E.g.:  Providing a choice to opt-out with a question like, “Do you wish to opt out of receiving updates on our collection and discounts forever?” where the phrases “Yes. I would like to receive updates” and “Not Now” are used instead of a straightforward option like “Yes,” introducing confusion and potentially leading users to make unintended choices.

Sources:  Financial Express, Inc42

digital markets  India 

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