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The Consumer Affairs Department on Thursday sought public feedback on draft guidelines aimed at preventing and regulating "dark patterns" -- which relate to ways adopted by e-commerce platforms to manipulate customer behaviour. 

The feedback has to be given by October 5. These draft rules have been developed after consultations with stakeholders including e-commerce platforms, law firms, and consumer organisations, the ministry of consumer affairs said in a statement on Thursday. 

These draft guidelines define dark patterns as deceptive design elements that manipulate consumers, using user interface, user experience interactions on any platform, into actions they did not originally intend, subverting consumer autonomy, decision making or choice, potentially violating consumer rights. 

The draft guidelines have specified about 10 dark patterns, which include false urgency, basket sneaking, confirm shaming, forced action, subscription trap, interface interference, bait and switch, drip pricing, disguised advertisement and nagging. 

'False urgency' refers to falsely stating or implying a sense of urgency or scarcity to mislead a user into making an immediate purchase or take an immediate action, which may lead to a purchase. 

'Basket sneaking' means inclusion of additional items such as products, services, payments to charity or donation at the time of checkout from a platform, without the consent of the user, such that the total amount payable by the user is more than the amount payable for the products/services chosen by the user. 

'Confirm shaming' means using a phrase, video, audio or any other means to create a sense of fear or shame or ridicule or guilt in the mind of the user, so as to nudge the user to act in a certain way that results in the user purchasing a product or service from the platform or continuing a subscription of a service. 

'Forced action' means forcing a user into taking an action that would require the user to buy any additional goods or subscribe or sign up for an unrelated service, in order to buy or subscribe to the product/service originally intended by the user. 

'Subscription trap' means the process of making cancellation of a paid subscription impossible or a complex and lengthy process including similar other practices. 

'Interface interference' means a design element that manipulates the user interface in ways that highlights certain specific information, and obscures other relevant information relative to the other information in order to misdirect a user from taking a desired action. 

'Bait and switch' means the practice of advertising a particular outcome based on the user's action but deceptively serving an alternate outcome. 

'Drip pricing' means a practice whereby-elements of prices are not revealed upfront or are revealed surreptitiously within the user experience; and/or other such practices 'Disguised advertisement' means a practice of posing, masking advertisements as other types of content such as user generated content or new articles or false advertisements. 

'Nagging' means a dark pattern due to which users face an overload of requests, information, options, or interruptions; unrelated to the intended purchase of goods or services, which disrupts the intended transaction. 

"The objective of the guidelines is to identify and regulate such practices which tend to manipulate or alter consumer choices, often by using deceptive or misleading techniques or manipulated user interfaces/web designs," the statement said. 

"Guidelines would be made applicable to all the persons and online platforms including sellers and advertisers," it added. 

A task force was formed by the consumer affairs department consisting of representatives from Industry Associations, ASCI, NLU, VCO and e-commerce platforms including Google, Flipkart, RIL, Amazon, Go-MMT, Swiggy, Zomato, Ola, Tata CLiQ, Facebook, Meta, Ship Rocket and Go-MMT, which drafted the guidelines after extensive discussions. 

The draft guidelines define dark patterns as any practices or deceptive design patterns using UI/UX (user interface/user experience) interactions on any platform; designed to mislead or trick users to do something they originally did not intend or want to do; by subverting or impairing the consumer autonomy, decision making or choice; amounting to misleading advertisement or unfair trade practice or violation of consumer rights. 

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