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Monday, March 4, 2024

dark patterns. Internet shopping. Inspection results

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The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection warns against dark patterns. These are manipulative practices used in online commerce that force customers to take actions they do not want.

Dark patterns are practices that use knowledge about user behavior to influence their decisions. They are used in applications and on websites, e.g. in e-shops, and force unintended or unwanted actions of consumers.

Examples? Product insurance automatically added to the basket, consent to transfer data in the place of the “next” button or invisible shipping costs.

Great control

European Commission and national consumer protection authorities from 23 Member States, Norway and Iceland (Consumer Protection Cooperation Network) have published the results of a sweep of retail websites.

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The audit covered 399 online shops owned by retailers offering a range of products from textiles to electronic goods. The audit also looked at three specific types of manipulative practices designed to trick consumers into making decisions that may not be in their best interests, so-called deceptive interface. Such deceptive interfaces include: fake timers; web interfaces designed to induce consumers to make a purchase, subscription or other choice, and hidden information.

The investigation found that 148 websites contained at least one of three types of deceptive interfaces.

Our audit showed that almost 40 percent of online shopping websites use manipulative practices to exploit or deceive consumers. Such behavior is obviously inappropriate and contrary to consumer protection principles. We now have legally binding tools to deal with these types of issues,’ said Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.

– I call on national authorities to use their enforcement powers and take appropriate action to eradicate these practices. At the same time, the Commission is reviewing all consumer protection rules to adapt them to the digital age. It also assesses whether such regulations adequately address the issue of deceptive interfaces, he added.

The results of the inspection showed that:

– 42 websites used fake timers and quoted purchase dates for specific products, – 54 websites prompted consumers to make a specific choice – from subscribing to buying more expensive products or choosing a particular type of delivery – through graphics or language options. – on 70 websites, important information was hidden or less visible to consumers. It was, among others o information on delivery costs, product composition or the availability of a cheaper option, – information was hidden on 23 websites in order to encourage consumers to buy a subscription.

The inspection also covered applications on 102 of the audited websites, 27 of which also used at least one of the three types of deceptive interfaces.

What steps does the European Commission plan to take?

The European Commission said that as a direct result of the inspections, national authorities contacted traders “to correct their websites and take further action, if necessary, in accordance with the procedures of the country concerned”.

The communication also states that “in order to eliminate deceptive interfaces, the Commission will also contact the online traders identified in the 2022 study on unfair commercial practices in the digital environment and ask them to solve the problems identified”.

In addition, the Commission is collecting comments on three directives related to consumer protection to determine whether they ensure a high level of protection in the digital environment. These are the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, the Consumer Rights Directive and the Unfair Contract Terms Directive. The public consultation will run until 20 February 2023.

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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