A Tech Group Characterizes India’s Proposed Guidelines Against Dark Patterns as ‘Regulatory Overlap’

An industry group, which includes several major U.S. tech companies, has voiced opposition to the Indian government’s proposal against dark patterns. They argue that this move would have a negative impact on the government’s commitment to promoting the “ease of doing business” in the economy. Also, it would introduce unnecessary “regulatory overlap” with existing laws.

A Tech Group Characterizes India's Proposed Guidelines Against Dark Patterns as 'Regulatory Overlap
A Tech Group Characterizes India’s Proposed Guidelines Against Dark Patterns as ‘Regulatory Overlap

A Tech Group Characterizes India’s Proposed Guidelines Against Dark Patterns as ‘Regulatory Overlap’

New Delhi had released draft guidelines (PDF) for public consultation last month, aimed at preventing and regulating dark patterns. These guidelines were open for feedback for 30 days until October 5. The objective was to address deceptive practices by online companies that employ unethical designs or patterns in their online interfaces to deceive or manipulate consumers.

The Asia Internet Coalition, representing tech giants like Apple, Google, Meta, Amazon, and X (formerly Twitter), has suggested that these proposed rules might hinder the growth of India’s digital economy. They have urged the Indian government to consider the current self-regulatory framework as the primary means to restrict the use of dark patterns, emphasizing that online platforms are already subject to regulation under various existing laws in the country.

The group expressed that introducing a distinct regulatory framework would create unnecessary regulatory redundancy. This redundancy would lead to variations within the relevant legal frameworks, causing uncertainty regarding compliance requirements. This stance was conveyed in the group’s comprehensive note, which was submitted to the consumer affairs department responsible for releasing the draft guidelines. A copy of the note has also been made available on the group’s website.

Online Platforms in India Are Subject to Regulation

The group clarified that online platforms in India fall under the category of online intermediaries and are subject to regulation under the Information Technology Act 2000. E-commerce platforms, on the other hand, are governed by the rules outlined in the Consumer Protection Act 2019. Additionally, it noted that sector-agnostic obligations are addressed in the Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023, which was issued in August.

In June, the consumer affairs department engaged with stakeholders, which included e-commerce platforms and law firms, to discuss the issue of dark patterns. The department reported that the meeting resulted in a shared consensus that dark patterns were a cause for concern and necessitated proactive measures.

Consequently, the government established a task force, comprised of representatives from industry associations, e-commerce platforms, and online businesses, including major players like Google, Flipkart, Reliance Industries, Amazon, Go-MMT, Swiggy, Zomato, Ola, Tata CLiQ, Facebook, Meta, and Shiprocket. This task force played a pivotal role in the development and release of the draft guidelines.

The Asia Internet Coalition has proposed that the Indian government explore a strategy similar to the one being pursued by the European Union in regulating the use of dark patterns. Additionally, they recommend that if the consumer affairs department intends to establish a separate framework, it should be broad in scope and not limited to a specific sector or medium. This regulation should encompass both offline and online content and advertisements, rather than focusing solely on online practices.

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