Guidelines to curb ‘deceptive’ marketing practices soon: Govt

MUMBAI: The government plans to clamp down on “manipulative” marketing practices on e-commerce sites, that infringe on consumer rights, and nudge them to buy products which they didn’t intend to. Guidelines will be framed within the next two months to curb deceptive or dark patterns that manipulate consumer choices and impede their right to be well informed, Union consumer affairs secretary Rohit Kumar Singh said here on Tuesday. These constitute unfair trade practices that are prohibited under the Consumer Protection Act 2019.
The ministry will collaborate with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) to build a comprehensive framework to protect consumers, he stated. To start with, these guidelines will be self regulatory.
Dark patterns include a wide range of manipulative practices such as drip pricing, disguised advertising, bait and click, choice manipulation, false urgency, and privacy concerns.
In a meeting held with stakeholders including e-commerce sites like Amazon, Flipkart, Zomato here on Tuesday, the ministry urged them to “self-regulate”, make sellers aware of such practices, and establish guidelines that discourage the use of dark patterns.
“Encouraging responsible design practices and conducting independent audits can help identify and rectify dark pattern issues’’, he told newspersons after the interaction with stakeholders.
Self-regulatory measures have been discussed for multiple categories, including but not limited to, online shopping, e-ticketing, restaurant and travel, to counter such manipulative and unfair trade practices.
“We are committed to work collaboratively with all stakeholders as we navigate through this evolving issue, and we hope that industry self-regulates itself and addresses this issue. We look forward to providing all assistance to ASCI in examining this issue and build a comprehensive framework to protect consumers. Consumers must not be forced or directed towards unintended consequences without their express consent and consent by deceit is not an express consent. Consumers shall be aware of what they are signing up for, and also should be able to get out of the same,” Singh stated.
Further, ASCI has outlined four key practices that it intends to address through expanding its code– drip pricing, bait and switch, false urgency and disguised advertising.
Manisha Kapoor, CEO and secretary general, ASCI, said: “With e-commerce and social commerce growing at breakneck speed, online consumer safety is at the top of ASCI’s agenda. Deceptive patterns in online advertising mislead consumers, ruin their online experience, and erode trust in brands and advertising. We have already gone through some extensive consultations on the advertising related dark patterns and have released a comprehensive discussion paper. We are grateful that the ministry is putting its weight behind this important issue and together we look forward to forming a strong set of guidelines and rules that help weed out online deceptive patterns.”

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