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ASCI extends online ad codes, dark patterns under radar

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) Thursday released an extensive discussion paper, drawing attention to how digital platforms use UI/UX design to manipulate consumer choices and mould consumer behaviours.

Practices like drip pricing, where only a part of the actual cost is disclosed to a potential buyer and the total price is revealed only at the very end, or creating a false urgency by implying that a certain product is limited, all fall under such manipulative tactics or dark patterns.

Researcher’s say that UI/UX developers use data on how the eye moves on a screen to design user interfaces for apps. However, dark patterns use this information to guide consumer surfing, thus impairing the surfing experience.

The regulatory body has identified four broad such dark patterns that it looks to address: bait and switch, where a user’s action is expected to lead to a certain outcome but another outcome is served like clicking on a cross sign to close an ad and instead being redirected to a different page; disguised advertising like ads that do not disclose that they are promotional in nature; drip pricing; and false urgency.

At least 29 per cent of ads processed by ASCI in 2021-22 pertained to disguised advertising, a kind of dark pattern. The most violative categories included crypto, personal care, and fashion.

“Such practices impair a consumer’s right to make an informed choice,” said Manisha Kapoor, CEO and secretary general, ASCI.

“There is a thin line between dark patterns and legitimate targeting and persuasion tactics.

Eventually dark patterns ruin consumer experience and increase abandonments, and make the consumer suspicious of the online space,” she added.

The regulatory body has formed a 12-member task force, comprising stakeholders from tech platforms, legal and domain experts, and members of the civil society to identify and examine various dark patterns and arrive at those that were believed to be prevalent in advertising, as well as those unfair practices not directly linked to advertising content.

The body is now inviting comments from stakeholders on the proposed expansion of the ASCI code. The deadline for the comments is December 31. The new codes are expected to be released by early next year.

“This attempt is to bring to surface the new kinds of patterns that add to misleading ads,” said Kapoor. Business Standard

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