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Dark Patterns in Digital Advertisements

GS Paper 4

 Syllabus: Code of Conduct/Code of Ethics


Source: BS

Context: The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has released guidelines on dark patterns in digital advertisements, urging companies not to mislead customers through omission, exaggeration, implication, or ambiguity.

What are Dark patterns?

Dark patterns refer to deceptive design patterns that prompt users to purchase without giving explicit consent.


Types of dark patterns in advertisements:

Dark PatternDescriptionExampleEthical Issues
Drip PricingIncreasing the price of a product after customers commit to buyingShowing a low initial price but adding extra charges at checkoutDeceptive pricing practices, lack of transparency
Disguised AdsDesigning ads to resemble other contentPlacing an ad that looks like a news article or social media postMisleading users, blurring the line between content and advertising
Bait and SwitchReplacing a selected product with a similar, less desirable oneAdding a popular item to the cart and replacing it with an inferior product before checkoutMisrepresentation, misleading customers
False UrgencyCreating a sense of limited availability or time-sensitive offerDisplaying a countdown timer or “limited stock” message to pressure immediate purchaseManipulating consumer behaviour, creating artificial urgency
Hidden CostsConcealing additional charges or feesNot disclosing shipping or handling fees until the final checkoutLack of transparency, misleading pricing
SneakingAdding extra items or services to a customer’s purchase without clear consentAutomatically including a subscription or add-on during the checkout processLack of informed consent, exploiting user behaviour


About the guidelines ( it is self-regulatory and will be effective from September 1)

  • Aim: To improve transparency and protect user autonomy.
  • Incomplete price representations and offering alternative products or services would be considered misleading.
  • Advertisers are also required to clearly differentiate between organic and paid ads on their platforms.
  • ASCI plans to develop guidelines on advertisements making green claims and crowdsourcing platforms in the future.
  • Department of Consumer Affairs will also soon release its own guidelines on dark patterns.


Significance of the guidelines: These guidelines will require businesses to create communication and systems that respect user autonomy, improve transparency, and encourage well-informed choices


About ASCI:

The Advertising Standards Council of India (est. 1985; HQ: Mumbai) is a voluntary self-regulatory organization of the advertising industry in India. ASCI is registered as a non-profit company under section 25 of the Company Act.


Insta Links:

Surrogate Advertising


Mains Links:

Do you think commercial advertisements need to be ethical? Comment.(250 words)