Brussels detects nearly 40 percent of online stores using manipulative practices

File – A person prepares to pay with his credit card for an online purchase made with his computer on a retailer’s website, in Madrid, Spain, Oct. 28, 2020. – Jesús Hellín – Europa Press

Nearly 40 percent of online retail stores use manipulative practices to push consumers into making purchasing decisions, a report by the European Commission and consumer protection authorities in 23 member states said Monday.

In total, the analysis covered 399 online stores across a range of sectors, from clothing to electronics, of which 148 used some form of practice to influence customer behavior to make decisions that may not always be in their best interest, known as ‘dark patterns’.

In this regard, 42 sites used a fake countdown with a deadline time to make a purchase of specific products, while another 54 stores directed the consumer to certain choices, such as subscriptions or more expensive products, through their web design.

The report highlights that another 70 pages hid or withheld information relevant to customers such as shipping costs, product composition or the possibility of a cheaper price. Another 23 hid information with the aim of getting consumers to subscribe to some kind of service.

«This behavior is clearly wrong and contrary to consumer protection. Today we already have binding tools to help tackle these problems and I call on national authorities to make use of their enforcement capabilities to take appropriate action to combat these practices,» said Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders on the report.

He also assured that Brussels is reviewing all consumer protection legislation to ensure that it is fit for the digital age, «including to assess whether dark patterns are adequately covered».