Dark Patterns

 Dark Patterns Exposed: Compliance Battle for Online Integrity


In today’s digital age, the online world has seamlessly integrated into our daily lives, offering everything from shopping to accessing services. However, the emergence of dark patterns in user interfaces has raised significant concerns about deceptive practices that manipulate users into making decisions against their best interests. Recognizing the gravity of this issue, the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) in India has embarked on a journey to regulate dark patterns on digital platforms.


The DoCA’s initiative to address dark patterns in India commenced with a pivotal consultation session held on June 13, 2023. During this session, key stakeholders from the e-commerce industry, including giants such as Flipkart, Zomato, Amazon, Meta, Google, and MakeMyTrip, were brought together. The primary objective of this initial meeting was to acquire an in-depth understanding of the various types ofdark patterns, their impact on consumers, and the formulation of a robust framework for their identification, prevention, and regulation.

Building on the insights gathered from this session, the DoCA subsequently assembled a task force that included the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), industry representatives, National Law Universities (NLUs), Voluntary Consumer Organizations (VCOs), and prominent e-commerce platforms.

The Proposed Guidelines

The draft guidelines, which are set to be issued under Section 18(2)(1) of the Consumer Protection Act 2019, titled the 'Guidelines for Prevention and Regulation of Dark Patterns, 2023'. These guidelines will have wide-reaching implications as they apply to sellers, advertisers, and all platforms systematically offering goods and services in India.

International Actions

On an international scale, regulatory authorities in regions such as the European Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom have taken decisive measures against dark patterns. Noteworthy instances encompass the action taken by the US Federal Trade Commission against Amazon for enrolling consumers in their 'Prime' program without obtaining their consent and the fine imposed by the French Data Protection Act on Apple Distribution International for automatically enrolling users in 'personalized ads' settings without their prior consent.

Understanding Dark Patterns

Dark patterns, when considered in the context of user interface and web design, encompass a range of deceptive techniques engineered to manipulate users into making choices that are contrary to their best interests. Such choices may include being coerced into paying more for a product than originally disclosed, sharing sensitive personal data, opting for expensive products over more affordable alternatives, or basing consumption decisions on falsified or paid reviews.

The draft guidelines provide a precise definition of dark patterns, describing them as "any practices or deceptive design patterns using UI/UX interactions on any platform designed to mislead or trick users into doing something they originally did not intend or want to do. This subversion or impairment of consumer autonomy, decision-making, or choice amounts to a misleading advertisement, an unfair trade practice, or a violation of consumer rights."

To further clarify these issues, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) introduced new rules effective from September 1, 2023, and the Department of Consumer Affairs has played a crucial role in providing additional clarity through its draft notification.

The draft guidelines have identified several specific dark patterns that need to be addressed. These patterns include:

1. False Urgency: Creating a false sense of scarcity or urgency to induce immediate purchases, often by falsely claiming limited stock or time-limited offers. For example, imagine you're booking a hotel room, and you see a message saying, "Only 2 rooms left! 30 others are looking at this right now." This is a classic example of false urgency, intended to nudge you into a quick decision.

2. Basket Sneaking: Adding unrequested items to a user's cart at checkout, increasing the total amount to be paid without their consent. You might be booking a flight ticket, and suddenly, travel insurance is added to your cart without asking for your permission. This practice is what we call "Basket Sneaking."

3. Confirm Shaming: Dark patterns like "Confirm Shaming" involve making users buy additional goods or subscribe to unrelated services to access what they originally intended to buy. For instance, you decide not to include insurance for your flight booking, and the platform tries to guilt-trip you with a message like, "I will stay unsecure." That's "Confirm Shaming" in action.

4. Forced Action: Forcing you to subscribe to a newsletter before you can purchase a product is a prime example of "Forced Action."

5. Subscription Trap: "Subscription Trap" is a process where platforms make it tough for users to cancel paid subscriptions. They might hide the cancellation option, ask for more payment details, or create confusing instructions.

6. Interface Interference: You might have seen a pop-up with a tiny, light-colored "No" option, while the "Yes" option is prominently highlighted. That's "Interface Interference" at play.

7. Bait and Switch: A common example of "Drip Pricing" is when you choose a flight ticket at a certain price, but the final amount is higher during payment.

8. Drip Pricing: A common example of "Drip Pricing" is when you choose a flight ticket at a certain price, but the final amount is higher during payment.

9. Disguised Advertisement: "Disguised Advertisement" is about masking ads as other types of content, like user-generated content or news articles.

10. Nagging: "Nagging" is the dark pattern where you're bombarded with requests or interruptions unrelated to your original intention. For example, those persistent requests to download an app, or platforms asking for your phone number in the name of security.


Regulating dark patterns online is essential in the digital age to protect consumers. The Department of Consumer Affairs' guidelines are a strong framework to prevent deceptive designs and ensure ethical behavior online. With more people using digital services, such regulations are crucial to maintain trust. These guidelines, along with existing laws, create a solid foundation for ethics and consumer protection in the digital world.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialistadvice should be sought about your specific circumstances.