The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) plans to extend its self-regulatory code to tackle manipulation of consumer choices and consumption patterns on digital platforms.

These tactics, termed “dark patterns”, are done through deployment of a certain kind of user interface (UI/UX) crafted to trick or manipulate users into making choices that are detrimental to their interest.

Task force formed

The body said it has formed a 12-member task force consisting of stakeholders from various fields to examine key issues related to dark patterns on various platforms and identify practices that are in violation of the ASCI code. “With online commerce growing rapidly, consumers’ vulnerability to such practices is increasing. In FY22, 29 per cent of the advertisements processed by ASCI were disguised by influencers as regular content, which is also a part of dark patterns in advertising. Categories found to be major violators were cryptocurrency, personal care, fashion and e-commerce,” it stated.

Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary General, ASCI, said ,“There is a thin line between dark patterns and legitimate targeting and persuasion tactics. Dark patterns cause consumer harm and with the ever-increasing presence of advertising on digital platforms, these are now under sharp scrutiny of ad-regulators around the world. Eventually, dark patterns ruin consumer experience and increase abandonment, and make the consumer suspicious of the online space.”

Common tactics

ASCI has now outlined four key practices that it intends to address through expanding its code. This includes “drip pricing”, a practice in which only part of a product’s price is disclosed to woo buyers and the total price is only revealed at the end of buying process.“Bait and Switch” when an ad directly or indirectly implies a particular outcome based on consumers action but in the end serves an alternative outcome. For instance: a consumer chooses a product of a certain price but thereafter the platform only lets them access products that are priced higher. 

The other two practices identified are false urgency and disguised advertising. It has now sought comments from stakeholders and consumers on suggestions for extending its code to tackle these practices by December 31.

“ASCI continues its investment in technology to track and monitor digital advertising to help keep the online experience safe for consumers,” Kapoor added.