Upholding Consumer Rights: India’s New Guidelines to Combat Deceptive Practices in Digital Spaces
-- Nitin Parihar, Advocate J&K High Court --

In a bid to fortify consumer rights and foster fairer interactions in the digital realm, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) of India has recently introduced comprehensive guidelines aimed at curtailing the proliferation of deceptive tactics known as “dark patterns.” These guidelines, issued under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, mark a pivotal step towards safeguarding consumers against misleading practices prevalent in the online marketplace.

In today’s digital age, our online experiences are often influenced by subtle yet powerful strategies that nudge us toward decisions we might not make otherwise. Imagine browsing through an e-commerce site and coming across a product labeled as “almost sold out” or “high demand.” That feeling of urgency might push you into making an impulse purchase, believing you’re about to miss out. These prompts, creating a false sense of urgency or scarcity, are what the guidelines term as “false urgency.”

Another common tactic involves “basket sneaking.” You’re all set to checkout after carefully selecting a few items, and suddenly, extra items or services appear in your cart, slyly added without your explicit consent. This manipulative tactic often results in unintended additional charges, catching consumers off guard.

Then there’s the psychological play of “confirm shaming.” You might encounter prompts like “No, I don’t care about savings” or “No, I prefer to pay full price” when declining a subscription or opting out of an additional service. These prompts play on emotions, making users feel guilty or embarrassed for choosing not to proceed, influencing decisions under emotional pressure.

Consider “forced action,” where you might find yourself providing unnecessary personal information or being nudged to buy unrelated products to access what you initially intended to purchase. These tactics blur the lines between genuine choices and imposed actions.

To add context, imagine a scenario where a user intends to cancel a subscription but faces an overly complicated process, the infamous “subscription trap.” This convoluted process makes canceling more challenging than signing up, deterring consumers from exercising their right to opt out.

The guidelines aim not just to outlaw these deceptive tactics but also to educate. They emphasize the responsibility of digital platforms, advertisers, and sellers to be transparent about promotional content and disguised advertisements. For instance, ensuring that any sponsored content is explicitly labeled as such.

This move towards transparency and fair practices is a game-changer. It seeks to empower consumers to make informed choices without being unduly influenced or misled. It’s not just about setting rules but fostering a culture where ethical conduct is the norm in the digital marketplace.

The introduction of these guidelines is a stepping stone towards reshaping digital interactions, fostering an environment where consumer autonomy is respected, and transactions are conducted transparently. It’s a significant stride in building trust and ensuring a fair and equitable digital space for all.

The proliferation of e-commerce and digital platforms has revolutionized how consumers engage with products and services. However, amidst this digital evolution, deceptive design strategies and manipulative user interface tactics have emerged, undermining consumer autonomy and decision-making. Recognizing these challenges, the CCPA has delineated a framework to identify and prohibit such dark patterns, ultimately enhancing the customer experience.

One of the primary focal points of these guidelines is to define and address various dark patterns that exploit user interfaces or experiences to coerce consumers into unintended actions. From creating false urgency through misrepresented product popularity or limited availability to ‘basket sneaking’—the covert addition of extra items during checkout—these guidelines explicitly outline and prohibit these practices.

Moreover, the guidelines shed light on deceptive practices like ‘confirm shaming,’ which leverages emotional triggers to influence purchasing decisions. Similarly, tactics like ‘forced action,’ where users are compelled to provide unnecessary personal information, and the ‘subscription trap,’ where canceling subscriptions becomes an arduous task, are also highlighted and discouraged.

By providing vivid illustrations and explanations, these guidelines offer clarity on practices like ‘bait and switch,’ ‘drip pricing,’ and ‘disguised advertisements,’ ensuring consumers are well-informed and protected against such misleading strategies.

Critically, these guidelines aim not only to prohibit but also to educate. They stress the responsibility of platforms, advertisers, and sellers to uphold transparency and explicitly disclose any promotional content or disguised advertisements, fostering a more honest and consumer-centric digital environment.

The implementation of these guidelines will undoubtedly bolster consumer confidence and trust in digital transactions. By curbing deceptive practices and enhancing transparency, consumers can make informed decisions without being unduly influenced or misled.

Elucidating New Terms Introduced:

1.     False Urgency: This term refers to the creation of a fabricated sense of urgency or scarcity to manipulate users into making immediate purchases. It’s often achieved by falsely depicting high demand or limited availability of a product or service.

2.     Basket Sneaking: ‘Basket sneaking’ involves surreptitiously adding additional items, services, or donations to a user’s shopping cart during checkout without their explicit consent, resulting in the user paying more than intended.

3.     Confirm Shaming: This practice employs emotional triggers to induce fear, shame, or guilt in users who do not take certain actions, primarily nudging them into purchasing a product or continuing a subscription.

4.     Forced Action: ‘Forced action’ entails compelling users to take additional actions, such as buying unrelated goods, subscribing to services, or sharing unnecessary personal information, to access or purchase the intended product or service.

5.     Interface Interference: This term refers to design elements that manipulate the user interface by highlighting specific information while obscuring other relevant details, misguiding users from intended actions.

6.     Nagging: Involves persistently and repeatedly disrupting users with requests or interruptions to facilitate a transaction, unless explicitly permitted by the user.

These newer terms exemplify the varied deceptive practices identified by the guidelines, aiming to safeguard consumers from manipulative tactics and promote transparency in digital transactions.


The significance of these guidelines lies in their potential to reshape digital interactions, fostering an environment where consumer autonomy is respected, choices are made freely, and transactions are conducted transparently. Ultimately, these guidelines aspire to create a fairer and more equitable digital marketplace, empowering consumers and safeguarding their rights in an increasingly digital- centric world. The newly introduced guidelines by the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) in India are tailored to significantly benefit the common man by ensuring a more transparent, fair, and secure digital consumer experience.

Empowering Informed Decisions:

One of the key advantages for the common man is the empowerment to make informed decisions. These guidelines aim to eliminate deceptive practices such as false urgency or misleading information about product popularity, allowing consumers to make purchases without feeling coerced or rushed. By providing clarity on pricing, availability, and promotional tactics, individuals can confidently navigate online transactions.

Protection Against Unwanted Charges:

For the everyday consumer, the guidelines guard against ‘basket sneaking,’ preventing additional, undisclosed charges during checkout. This ensures that individuals are not unexpectedly billed for products or services they didn’t intend to purchase, thereby safeguarding their financial interests.

Avoidance of Emotional Manipulation:

‘Confirm shaming’ and other emotional manipulation tactics identified in the guidelines protect individuals from being emotionally coerced into purchases or subscriptions. This shields consumers from guilt or shame-inducing strategies designed to influence their decisions, enabling them to make choices free from emotional pressure.

Simplified Cancellation Processes:

The guidelines target practices like the ‘subscription trap,’ which make canceling subscriptions overly complex or hidden, easing the process for individuals who wish to discontinue services. This empowers consumers to manage their subscriptions effortlessly without being locked into long-term commitments.

Clarity in Digital Transactions:

By addressing deceptive design elements (‘interface interference’), these guidelines promote clarity in digital interactions. Users can better distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information, ensuring they aren’t misled or confused during online transactions.

Prevention of Unnecessary Actions:

The guidelines protect against ‘forced action,’ ensuring individuals aren’t compelled to divulge unnecessary personal information or undertake unrelated actions to access desired products or services. This safeguards their privacy and prevents unnecessary data sharing.

Educating Consumers:

Beyond protection, the guidelines emphasize educating consumers about misleading practices. By fostering awareness and understanding of these deceptive tactics, individuals are equipped to identify and avoid such traps, promoting a more discerning approach to online interactions.

Overall Confidence and Trust:

Collectively, these guidelines instill greater confidence and trust in online transactions for the common man. By mitigating deceptive practices, promoting transparency, and prioritizing consumer rights, individuals can engage in digital commerce with heightened assurance and trust.

In essence, these guidelines are designed to empower the common man by providing safeguards against deceptive tactics, enhancing transparency, and fostering an environment where individuals can make informed choices without undue influence or coercion in their digital interactions.


25 Dec 2023


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