Fraudulent patterns are fooling online shoppers, a consumer rights group warns

User interfaces are often designed with deceptive or dark patterns to trick consumers into unintended actions, such as purchasing additional products or signing up for newsletters.

To mark World Consumer Day (March 15), the European Consumer Center Ireland (ECCI) has warned of the dangers of online shopping, which it says is “sometimes fraught with unethical practices that lead consumers to unwitting overspending, over-indebtedness and loss.” at a fair price and fair terms.”

In a blog post, ECCI listed the most common violations of consumer rights online as “unfair commercial practices, unfair pricing and unfair contract terms.”

It highlighted “dark patterns” as one of the most prominent problems of late.

Harry Brignull defines “dark or deceptive patterns” as “tricks used by websites and apps to get you to do things you didn’t want to do, like buy something or sign up.”

Dark patterns include misdirection, trick questions, hidden ads, in-cart stealers, and premium models that are easy to opt in to but hard to opt out of.

According to Brignull, dark patterns work because “when you’re using websites and apps, you’re not reading every word on every page; If a company wants to trick you into doing something, they can take advantage of that by making the page look like it says one thing when it actually says something else.”

A 2022 European Commission report states that the main challenge of these deceptive tactics is that they “often operate in a blurred area between legitimate attempts at persuasion and illegal manipulation techniques.”

The commission’s report shows that “dark patterns are widespread and increasingly used by merchants of all sizes, not just on large platforms.”

Research for the report found that “97 percent of the most popular websites and apps used by EU consumers deployed at least one dark pattern.”

The latest figures from Eurostat show that Irish internet users are the third biggest online shoppers in Europe, with 89 per cent buying or ordering goods or services online, behind only the Netherlands (92 per cent) and Denmark (90 per cent).

Given Irish consumers’ reliance on internet shopping, the ECCI urges people “not to lose your European consumer rights when shopping online”.

The European Consumer Organization has argued that EU legislation needs to be updated to tackle these “unfair practices” online to ensure that “consumers do not suffer from misleading user interfaces and data personalization methods”.

Professor Owen Conlan, Research Lead at the Adapt Digital Research Center, talked about dark patterns in a recent episode of the For Tech’s Sake podcast. Conlan’s research focuses on empowering users to understand and interact with complex information and media.

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