ASCI Releases Guidelines To Curb ‘Dark Patterns’ in Online Advertising

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has recently released guidelines to address the issue of online deceptive design patterns in advertising. These patterns are commonly known as “Dark Patterns” and refer to advertising practices that compel consumers to make decisions against their best interests. Such practices often include elements of digital architecture like user interfaces that obscure free choices and attempt to subvert the autonomy of the consumer.

The guidelines encompass advertising-related concerns associated with online deceptive patterns, such as drip pricing, bait-and-switch tactics, false urgency, and disguised advertising. The guidelines define these patterns in the manner summarized below: –

  • Drip Pricing refers to the practice of not including the entire prices of products and only showing the entire price at the end of purchase. To prevent this, the quoted prices have to cover non-optional taxes, fees and charges that are applicable to all or most buyers.
  • Bait-and-Switch refers to a situation wherein an ad suggests one outcome on the basis of the consumer’s actions and follows through with another outcome when the same actions are followed through, thereby misleading consumers.
  • False Urgency is a situation wherein quantities of a product are projected to be significantly lesser than they actually are to mislead consumers and create a false sense of urgency amongst the consumers.
  • Disguised Advertising refers to content which appears to be organic but is actually planted by the product makers as covert advertisements. In such cases, it must be disclosed that it is an ad.

The intention behind these guidelines is to accurately define the contours of these dark patterns so as to inform and guide members of the industry. The ASCI guidelines aim to shape the digital advertising landscape in India by promoting fairness, transparency, and user empowerment. By prioritizing user-centric experiences and combating deceptive design practices, the advertising industry can foster a more ethical and trustworthy online environment.