Dark web design tricks asking consumers to jump through multiple hoops to unsubscribe – a tactic often used by online streaming services – could soon be captured under tightened consumer laws.
Assistant Minister for Competition Andrew Leigh says the federal government is considering the case for a general ban on unfair trading practices that would cover unethical web design and other concerning behaviours in the digital sphere.
An economy-wide ban was recommended by the consumer watchdog in its latest digital platforms report on regulatory reform.
Dr Leigh says “dark patterns” trick online users into doing things they don’t mean to do.
“You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever tried to unsubscribe from a digital streaming service,” he will tell the audience at the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia small business conference on Wednesday.
Consumers often find it easy to sign up as a new customer to a streaming service or the like, but then face complicated navigation menus and skewed wording when they try to cancel their subscriptions.
Other troubling online practices identified by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission include bogus countdown timers attached to an online purchase or using red buttons for “yes” and green buttons for “no” to manipulate users.
“And there’s search engine manipulation, such as when food delivery companies impair the ability of restaurants to attract customers by ensuring the delivery company’s site appears above the restaurant’s in internet searches,” he says.
Existing consumer law captures specific unfair trading practices, such as making false and misleading statements about products or services, but the ACCC supports the notion of an economy-wide ban as seen in other places, such as the European Union, the UK, US and Singapore
“The US banned unfair trading practices in 1938,” he will say.
“Today, the provision is being used to protect Americans against unfair practices that would not have been dreamed of eight decades ago.”
Commonwealth, state and territory consumer ministers are considering the ACCC’s recommendations as part of a consultation on proposed unfair trading reforms.
Dr Leigh says a failure to stop firms ripping off customers can create adverse competition incentives.
“Other firms in the market see bad behaviour go unpunished and protect their own patch by employing the same dodgy tactics. Soon enough there’s a race to the bottom in dodginess.”
(Australian Associated Press)