Guidelines to curb malpractices on e-commerce platforms

Ministry is set to frame guideline to stop ‘dark pattern’ in online purchases. The dept also started helpline number 1915 for complaining

Guidelines to curb malpractices on e-commerce platforms

Concerned about rising complaints of malpractices across several e-commerce platforms like Zomato, Amazon, Ola, Google and many others, the government is all set to frame guidelines within the next two months to curb what is known as “dark patterns” in online purchases, and is likely to introduce jail term as a penal provision to stop the menace.

“Dark pattern” refers to misleading offers which are given to consumers during online shopping, that tend to trap them into fraudulent or loss making deals. The Consumer Affairs Ministry has, in fact, started helpline number 1915, where consumers are being encouraged to complain about such instances. This facility began on June 28 and the ministry is confident that it would be able to get to some “solid numbers” on such instances by July 31.

Earlier this month, Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh had held a meeting with leading e-commerce platforms in Mumbai, where they were asked to refrain from indulging in dark pattern practices and were advised to practice self-restraint. Sources said that during that meeting, the stakeholders had given a blanket assurance that they would look into the matter. However, after 15 days, when the instances of consumers getting lured by such practices did not show any sign of abating, the helpline number was started on June 28.

The stakeholders have been informed by the government that complaints are now being registered regarding such malpractices, and once the specific guidelines are prepared within the next two months, then there is a likelihood of a jail term for offenders and their services could even be discontinued, official sources said. There are several categories of dark pattern practices on e-commerce platforms which the government has identified. Some examples of these are false urgency, wherein the consumer is induced to purchase something under the pressure of being given a limited time offer on a particular product. Another example is that of “confirm shaming”, where the consumer is lured by questions like “are you sure you don’t want to buy?”

Hidden cost is one of the common forms of such malpractice, where an online ticket is offered at a reduced rate but when it is purchased, the price is much more than it was offered earlier. The ministry plans to take action on several influencers on social media, especially in the field of finance and health to begin with, mainly those who promote specific financial products or medicines. Their veracity needs to be verified and therefore their credentials would be checked, and if found to be false, then action would be taken as per the guidelines, ministry officials said.

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