Consumer cops target ‘dark patterns’ in digital sales

Also in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s crosshairs are dodgy declarations of environmental friendliness — particularly carbon neutrality.The priorities were set out in a speech in Sydney by outgoing ACCC chairman Rod Sims at a lunch organized by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.” Consumers are facing a growing number of manipulative techniques to exploit or pressure them, and other practices that seek to distort or disregard their consumer choice in the digital economy,” Mr Sims said.These techniques are known as “dark patterns”, where deception is designed into digital services.Mr Sims said they “include false scarcity reminders such as low-stock warnings, false sales countdown timers, targeted advertising utilizing consumers’ own data to exploit their individual characteristics, preselected add-ons and design interfaces that discourage unsubscribing. “Think for a moment also about how easy it is to subscribe to something and then how difficult it often proves to unsubscribe,” he said.“Other practices that seek to distort or disregard consumer choice in the digital economy include manipulation of online reviews and search results, and social media influencers who don’t disclose they are paid to promote the products they are pitching. “All these practices direct consumers towards certain products rather than organic search results that best match their search terms,” Mr Sims said. He also warned businesses against engaging in “greenwashing”.“We are aware of growing concerns that some businesses are falsely promoting environmental or green credentials to capitalize on these consumer preferences,” Mr Sims said.This didn’t only harm consumers. “Businesses incurring the costs of genuine environmentally friendly manufacturing processes face unfair competition from those businesses making misleading green claims without incurring the same costs,” he said.The ACCC’s greenwash watch would extend to the manufacturing and energy sectors.“We are hearing about some business seeking to gain an advantage by making misleading claims about the carbon neutrality of their production processes,” Mr Sims said.Mr Sims will retire next month after 11 years in charge of the ACCC. His successor will be leading Sydney-based competition lawyer Gina Cass-Gottlieb, who is yet to speak publicly about the priorities she wants the commission to pursue.NED-5192-DT-App-Banner

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