by Monami Dasgupta, Rajashree Gopalakrishnan, Vinith Kurian, D91 Labs (Setu)
The Indian fintech industry has witnessed rapid growth due to widespread digital adoption (with over 700 million smartphone users), mature data ecosystems (with initiatives such as the account aggregator) and cross-selling of multiple financial products (resulting from a large, consolidated user base through unified payments interface, UPI). While this growth is driving a potential USD 1 trillion market, there are significant concerns over potential risks posed to users in terms of privacy and financial harm.
For instance, the fintech industry tends to use deceptive patterns like hidden costs, expensive surrender clauses, misleading games, and bundled products with the ultimate motive of higher and faster business growth. For a country with stark inequalities like India, the impact of such deceptive designs can have stronger negative effects on constrained users.
This study was conducted to identify the deceptive patterns that a user can face while using popular Indian fintech apps and the intended harm that they can potentially cause. Literature on deceptive patterns in India is mostly restricted to e-commerce and occasionally to fintech users. However, with a field as dynamic as fintech, up-to-date research on deceptive patterns is always a work-in-progress. This study aims to work towards filling that gap.
For this study, we selected retail financial products delivered through fintech applications on a smartphone. Our sample consisted of nine popular apps from four financial services categories - lending, insurance, investments, and neo-banking. For each app, we assessed their relevance and popularity metrics such as the number of downloads and ratings on Android/iOS app stores. We restricted the analysis to apps that have been operational for a period of at least 12 months at the time of selection. Although our list is not exhaustive, these popular apps play a role in setting the industry standard for designing user experiences.
We downloaded each of these apps and examined the user flow with the intention to detect and identify deceptive patterns at various stages of the user journey. For confidentiality reasons, we refrain from naming the apps here.
After this stage, we categorized our observations from each application, by the types of deceptive patterns as reviewed in the literature. In the app review process, we found that the existing taxonomy of deceptive patterns was limited for the Indian context and therefore, a section of the research isdevoted to creating a usable taxonomy that better suits our observations. Finally, we mapped the deceptive patterns observed against the various types of harm they can cause to the user.
Deceptive patterns found in Indian Fintech apps
Deceptive patterns in commercial practices have been well established in contemporary literature by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). We follow the definition provided by the Stigler Committee Report on Digital Platforms which articulates that deceptive designs are “user interfaces that make it difficult for users to express their actual preferences or that manipulate users into taking actions that do not comport with their preferences or expectations.”
We broadly use the taxonomy by OECD with some modifications to categorize our findings of deceptive design across the selected fintech apps. Our assessment reveals the presence of seven categories of deceptive patterns including forced action, interface interference, nagging, obstruction, sneaking, social proof and urgency. The infographics below provide a description of each category and the harms associated with it.
We downloaded each of these apps and examined the user flow with the intention to detect and identify deceptive patterns at various stages of the user journey. For confidentiality reasons, we refrain from naming the apps here. After this stage, we categorized our observations from each application, by the types of deceptive patterns as
reviewed in the literature. In the app review process, we found that the existing taxonomy of deceptive patterns was limited for the Indian context and therefore, a section of the research had to be devoted to creating a usable taxonomy that fit our observations. Finally, we mapped the deceptive patterns observed against the various types of harm they can cause to the user.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Monami Dasgupta - Head of Research, D91 Labs
Monami leads the research efforts at D91 Labs. In her current role, she conducts independent and collaborative research at the intersection of financial inclusion, fintech and user research. Her research interests include financial inclusion, financial well-being, development economics and conducting primary research with relevant cohorts of the Indian population. She brings expertise in understanding low-income households and their financial lives. For more details, you can reach out to her here.
Vinith Kurian - Senior Research Fellow, D91 Labs
Vinith is an experienced researcher in the area of financial inclusion and migration. He has worked with leading academic institutions and global think tanks in conducting primary, large-scale impact evaluations across India. His current research interests include ideating and evaluating innovative financial products and services for use cases relevant to low-income cohorts. For more details, you can reach out to him here.
Rajashree Gopalakrishnan - User Researcher, D91 Labs
Rajashree is a multi-disciplinary designer turned researcher currently working at the intersection of financial inclusion and inclusive design. Her areas of interest include human-centred design, social innovation, primary research and behavioural psychology. You can get in touch with her here.
D91 Labs is an independent research arm of Setu. We aim to study the financial journeys of last-mile users along with understanding the impact of financial products, regulations and innovations that can affect their lives. Through our research, we bridge the knowledge and empathy gap amongst stakeholders to improve digital financial services. For more details on the initiatives and publications by D91 Labs visit our website here.
Dasgupta, M., Gopalakrishnan, R., & Kurian, V. (2023). Fintech ’App’rehensions: An Assessment of Deceptive Design in Indian Fintech. Retrieved from <The Pranava Institute> https://<https://www.design.pranavainstitute.com/post/fintech-app-rehensions-an-assessment-of-deceptive-designs-in-indian-fintech>