The government is prepared to adopt guidelines in the next two months to combat what is known as “dark patterns” in online purchases in response to the rising number of complaints regarding misleading practises on major eCommerce platforms including Zomato, Amazon, Ola, Google, and others. The authorities are considering the introduction of jail terms as a penal provision to combat this issue.

Dark patterns” refer to misleading offers presented to consumers during online shopping, which aim to trick them into fraudulent or disadvantageous deals. To tackle this problem, the Consumer Affairs Ministry has launched a helpline number – 1915, to encourage consumers to report such instances. This helpline was initiated on June 28, and the ministry expects to gather significant data on these occurrences by July 31.

Earlier this month, the Consumer Affairs Secretary, Rohit Kumar Singh, held a meeting in Mumbai with leading e-commerce platforms. During the meeting, the platforms were urged to refrain from employing dark pattern practices and were advised to exercise self-restraint. Although the stakeholders assured that they would address the issue, the instances of consumers falling victim to such practices continued unabated after 15 days. Consequently, the helpline number was established on June 28.

The government has informed the stakeholders that complaints regarding these malpractices are now being registered. Once specific guidelines are prepared within the next two months, offenders may face jail terms, and their services could even be discontinued, according to official sources.

The government has identified several categories of dark pattern practices on eCommerce platforms. For instance, false urgency is employed to pressure consumers into making quick purchases by offering limited-time deals. Another example is “confirm shaming,” where consumers are manipulated through questions like “Are you sure you don’t want to buy?”

Hidden costs are also prevalent, where online tickets are initially advertised at reduced rates, only to reveal higher prices during the purchase process.

The ministry plans to take action against influencers on social media, particularly in the finance and health sectors, who promote specific financial products or medicines. Their credibility will be verified, and if found to be false, appropriate measures will be taken based on the guidelines, as stated by ministry officials.

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