To understand today's fast-paced consumer market, one cannot turn a blind eye towards terms like e-retail, e-commerce and online shopping. It emanates from a soaring number of consumers who conduct a significant portion of their day-to-day transactions online (such as buying groceries, paying house bills, and shopping articles of personal and business use, to name a few). It is projected that the number of annual online shoppers is going to shoot up from approximately 200 million online shoppers currently to 425 million by 2027 which is a more than 200% spike in less than 5 years.

Evidently, the prevention of deceptive practices in the current digital world has become paramount for all governments across the globe. In continuation of the Indian Government's endeavour to protect the interest of consumers in the current overwhelming digital era, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) has issued another set of comprehensive guidelines known as the "Guidelines for Prevention and Regulation of Dark Patterns 2023" ("Guidelines"). Notably, with this India joins the likes of the US, EU and UK which have already passed binding legislation(s) to curb dark patterns.

What Are Dark Patterns? Why is consumer protection required from "Dark Patterns"?

The term 'Dark Patterns' has been defined under the Guidelines 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".

Dark patterns is a term coined to describe manipulative tactics used in user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design, which may affect the decision-making process and even cognitive thinking of a consumer while effecting purchases online.

The Legal Framework

The Guidelines are rooted in the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, and provide a framework for identifying, preventing, and regulating dark patterns. The aim of the Guidelines is to protect consumers from deceptive practices while holding platforms, advertisers, and sellers accountable.

Key Definitions in the Guidelines

Before diving into the specifics of the guidelines, it's essential to understand key definitions:

  1. Advertiser: "Advertiser" shall have the same meaning as defined under the Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 20221;
  2. Commercial Gains: "Commercial gains" mean monetary gain or financial advantage of any kind;
  3. Platform: "Platform" under these guidelines shall have the same meaning as defined under Consumer Protection (E-Commerce) Rules, 20202;
  4. User: "User" shall mean any person who accesses or avails any computer resource of a platform.


The guidelines apply to the following entities:

  1. All Platforms: Offering goods or services in India.
  2. Advertisers: Those promoting products or services.
  3. Sellers: Those involved in e-commerce.

Prohibitions Against Dark Patterns

One of the key aspects of the Guidelines is the prohibition against engaging in dark patterns. No entity, including platforms, can use deceptive design elements to mislead or coerce users into taking actions against their will.

Specified Dark Patterns

The guidelines provide specific examples of dark patterns in Annexure 1, which serves as a reference for stakeholders. Let's explore these dark patterns and their implications, along with real-world examples:

  1. False Urgency

False Urgency involves creating a sense of urgency or scarcity to push users into immediate actions, often resulting in a purchase. Example:

  • Example: E-commerce websites often display messages like "Hurry! Only 2 items left" to create a false sense of urgency and encourage quick purchases.
  1. Basket Sneaking

Basket Sneaking includes adding additional items or charges at the time of checkout without the user's consent, increasing the total payable amount.

  • Example: Some online retailers automatically add insurance or extended warranties to a shopping cart without the user's explicit consent, increasing the final cost.
  1. Confirm Shaming

Confirm Shaming manipulates users by creating fear, shame, ridicule, or guilt, encouraging them to take certain actions, such as making a purchase.

  • Example: Websites often use phrases like "No, I don't want to save money" instead of a simple "No, thanks" when users decline a special offer, making users feel guilty for not accepting.
  1. Forced Action

Forced Action compels users to take additional actions, like buying unrelated goods or subscribing to services, to access what they initially intended.

  • Example: Some mobile apps require users to subscribe to a newsletter or download unrelated apps to access the core functionality, forcing users into actions they didn't intend.
  1. Subscription Trap

The Subscription Trap involves making it difficult to cancel paid subscriptions, hiding cancellation options, or requiring payment details for free trials.

  • Example: Some subscription-based services make it exceedingly challenging to find the cancellation option or bury it deep within the app, discouraging users from cancelling.
  1. Interface Interference

Interface Interference manipulates UI elements to divert users from their intended actions, often by obscuring key information.

  • Example: Pop-up ads that display a misleading "Close" button, which actually opens the ad, instead of closing it as expected.
  1. Bait and Switch

Bait and Switch entails advertising one outcome but delivering another, often involving product quality or pricing changes.

  • Example: A retailer advertises a product as "on sale," but when users click to purchase, they discover that the discounted item is out of stock, and they are encouraged to buy a more expensive alternative.
  1. Drip Pricing

Drip Pricing involves revealing hidden costs or price changes after the user confirms a purchase.

  • Example: Online booking platforms may initially display a lower ticket price, but as users proceed with the booking, additional fees and charges are gradually added, increasing the final cost.
  1. Disguised Advertisement

Disguised Advertisement refers to ads masquerading as user-generated content or news articles, potentially misleading users.

  • Example: Sponsored content on social media that resembles regular posts but is, in fact, paid advertising, blurring the line between authentic content and ads.
  1. Nagging

Nagging involves overloading users with requests, information, or interruptions unrelated to their intended transaction.

  • Example: Websites repeatedly asking users to download their mobile app, even after users have declined multiple times.

Additional Considerations

Further, the guidelines clarify that they do not supersede existing laws but rather complement them. Any ambiguity in interpretation will be resolved by the CCPA and violations of these guidelines will be subject to the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.


The Guidelines signify the approach of the current Government to build a strong framework of consumer protection against all forms of deceptive online practices. By defining and prohibiting specific dark patterns, the Guidelines empower consumers and hold businesses accountable for their non-acceptable online behaviour. As digital transactions continue to grow, these guidelines ensure that user experience remains transparent and fair. Surely consumer protection in the digital age has taken a significant stride forward with these guidelines, emphasizing the importance of honesty and transparency in online interactions.

In parting remarks, it is needless to say, that all the stakeholders, including platforms, advertisers, and sellers, must familiarize themselves with these guidelines to ensure compliance and contribute to a more ethical and trustworthy digital environment for all.


1. "advertiser" means a person who designs, produces and publishes advertisements either by his own effort or by entrusting it to others in order to promote the sale of his goods, products or services and includes a manufacturer and service provider of such goods, products or services;

2. "platform" means an online interface in the form of any software including a website or a part thereof and applications including mobile applications;

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.