Survey: Majority Face Subscription Traps, Hidden Charges in App Purchases

By Consultants Review Team Tuesday, 13 February 2024

A recent survey by online research firm LocalCircles revealed that over half of the consumers polled encountered subscription traps, hidden charges, and other deceptive tactics when purchasing apps or software through mobile application stores. Many respondents reported instances where they initially opted for a free app or a one-time service, only to find themselves unwittingly enrolled in a subscription service later on.

In response to such practices, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) issued a gazette notification on November 30 to prohibit dark patterns in online transactions. The government identified 13 types of dark patterns, including false urgency, confirm shaming, and subscription traps, among others, aimed at protecting consumers from deceptive tactics.

According to the survey report, 67% of consumers who made purchases through app platforms and software as a service (SAAS) platforms found that what was advertised as a one-time software or service often turned out to be a subscription trap. Additionally, 71% of respondents experienced hidden charges associated with purchases, which were not disclosed upfront but only revealed during the payment process.

Furthermore, half of the surveyed consumers encountered bait-and-switch dark patterns, where the app or software they received differed from what was promised to them. Alarmingly, 25% of respondents who downloaded apps via app platforms reported encountering rogue malware, leading to the theft of private information or the installation of unauthorized software on their devices.

The survey, conducted between December 1, 2023, and January 30, 2024, garnered over 44,000 responses from users of apps or software subscription services across 331 districts in India. Despite variations in response rates for each question, the findings underscore the prevalence of deceptive practices in the app purchasing landscape, highlighting the urgent need for regulatory measures to protect consumers from such exploitation.

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