28.02.2023 | by Lili
The European Commission has published a study in January 2023 titled “Behavioural study on unfair commercial practices in the digital environment: dark patterns and manipulative personalisation.”
According to the results, almost half of the examined websites use unfair practices to convince consumers of a purchase and/or other action.
The European Commission, in cooperation with European national consumer protection authorities, conducted a screening (referred to as “sweep”) of retail websites to discover how these sites try to manipulate consumers into various actions.
The review included 399 retail website trading products across various categories, including textiles and electronics. The Commission focused on three main types of manipulative practices: hidden information, fake countdowns, and web interfaces designed to make consumers purchase or subscribe to something. Together, these practices are called dark patterns.
Dark patterns, or deceptive designs are “tricks used in websites and apps that make you do things that you didn't mean to, like buying or signing up for something.”
A well-known example is a countdown that shows how much time you have left before a special deal disappears. 42 of the examined websites used this practice to urge consumers to make a purchase as quickly as possible.
Countdowns like these are based on the common fear of missing out where people are afraid they’ll lose something great if they don’t act quickly. Plus, since they have to act fast, consumers have no time to really consider if they need the product at all - and certainly no time to verify if the products are genuine. That’s why fake webshops often use this tactic to scare consumers into buying from them.
Screenshot of a countdown on a random webshop. Text in German: Hurry up: Deal ends in… Translation by globaleyez
Another example of a dark pattern is a visual design or language use that directs consumers to make certain choices. These choices are usually in favour of the seller, like making a purchase or signing up for a subscription.
The report discovered that 54 websites from the examined 399 used practices like these.
The third dark pattern the European Commission focused on was hidden information. This practice was used by the highest number, 70 websites chosen for the study.
Hidden information includes anything important that’s not immediately visible to the consumer. For example, the fact that a purchase comes with delivery costs, or that a subscription will be renewed automatically if the consumer doesn’t untick a barely visible box.
The study also included 102 apps provided by the screened webshops. 27 of the 102 also used at least one type of dark patterns.
In a world where usually honest sellers resort to using tricks like dark patterns, imagine what actual fraudsters can do! Unfortunately, we at globaleyez don’t have to imagine it as we’ve seen it all first hand.
Counterfeiters, grey marketers and other fraudsters abusing your IP rights often follow similar patterns to dupe consumers into buying their products. Usual red flags include heavily discounted prices (often in the league of too-good-to-be-true), bombastic language to convince consumers of the quality and seriousness of their offering, and missing information from the imprint to discourage customers from getting in touch.
The majority of webshops are operated by honest vendors selling authorized products. However, thanks to providers like Shopify and WooCommerce, anybody can create and operate professional-looking webshops. Even fraudsters.
What benefits honest vendors benefits fraudsters just as much. The reasonable pricing options, quality design, sales and marketing features and many other perks allow fraudsters to create a trustworthy image and sway consumers to get them to buy IP infringing, and potentially even dangerous products.
What more, fraudsters trying to mimic your brand’s original shop have an easy time copying your design, texts and even use seamless social shopping integrations along with convenient payment options Shopify offers to dupe customers.
Luckily, this is not the end of the story. globaleyez’s comprehensive online brand protection services are designed to ferret out fraudsters who infringe on your IP rights, whatever unfair practices they’re using.
Take our domain monitoring service, for instance. Our powerful software tool, led by intuitive human expertise, discovers potentially IP infringing domains all over the internet. We monitor all types of TLDs as well as meta descriptions, meta keywords and even HTML content.
Versatile filter options allow us to zoom in on specific results, including webshops operated by shopsystems like Shopify and Co. We can also apply allow-lists to filter out authorised use of your rights. Once we determine that a domain is indeed infringing on your IP rights, we can ensure its takedown from the internet.
Photo of a laptop displaying Shopify’s homepage
In the world of brand protection keywords will get you only so far, which is why we also offer image monitoring. With this service, we detect IP infringing imagery anywhere on the internet.
Some fakeshops take care not to use brand names in their domain or meta descriptions to avoid capture. However, even these fraudsters need to advertise their products, and more often than not, they choose to do so via pictures.
Well, our image monitoring service finds those pictures. And not just the ones they copied from your website, but similar images they created themselves. infrimage, our image monitoring software comes equipped with versatile filter options, data export tools and user-friendly interface to make your image monitoring service easy and straightforward.
Social media is often the place where fraudsters catch new customers, which is why we have to be present there as well. In this specific case, our social media monitoring service is perfect for uncovering hidden connections and correlations between webshops and social media content.
We monitor all kinds of content, including product listings, imagery, ads, posts, brand/seller pages and even closed groups on Facebook, Instagram and Co.
Finally, whatever type of content we find, our extensive network of professional connections in the industry (e.g. search engines, domain registries and registrars, social networks, marketplaces, payment providers, etc) allows us to enforce your rights and demand the removal of the infringing content.
Since fraudsters are rarely deterred from one removal and infringing content tends to pop back up, we offer sustainable monitoring where we regularly check back to see if the deleted content has found its way back online.
The European Commission’s report has shown a large amount of unfair practices used by even non-fraudulent online shops.
As a follow-up, national authorities are going to get in touch with these shops and enlighten them about the unfairness of their practices. Moreover, the European Commission promises to review the current state of consumer protection laws to determine if they’re fit and up-to-date to handle issues involving dark patterns.
As online brand protection experts, we are pleased that the European Commission and national authorities are ready to strengthen consumer protection and ramp up action against dark patterns.
Consumer protection is an important accessory to the fight against counterfeits and other IP infringements. However, if you want to protect your brand from the harms of IP infringements, relying on consumer protection is not enough. Brands need a complete online brand protection programme to ensure that IP infringing fraudsters are found and stopped in their actions before they can cause extensive problems.
Contact us for a non-binding quote and tell us about your IP protection needs.