Amazon announced that 140 schools were added to the 40 existing participants, according to Fortune magazine.

FTC Sues Amazon For ‘Tricking’ Customers Into Prime Accounts

Amazon announced that 140 schools were added to the 40 existing participants, according to Fortune magazine.
Amazon Logo, (Unsplash)

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is suing, Inc. for its years-long effort to enroll consumers into its Prime program without their consent while knowingly making it difficult for consumers to cancel their subscriptions to Prime.

In a complaint filed on Wednesday, the FTC says that Amazon has knowingly duped millions of consumers into unknowingly enrolling in Amazon Prime. Specifically, Amazon used manipulative, coercive, or deceptive user-interface designs known as “dark patterns” to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically renewing Prime subscriptions

The FTC says that Amazon also knowingly complicated the cancellation process for Prime subscribers who sought to end their membership.

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The primary purpose of its Prime cancellation process was not to enable subscribers to cancel, but to stop them. Amazon leadership slowed or rejected changes that would’ve made it easier for users to cancel Prime because those changes adversely affected Amazon’s bottom line. 

“Amazon tricked and trapped people into recurring subscriptions without their consent, not only frustrating users but also costing them significant money,” said FTC Chair Lina M. Khan. “These manipulative tactics harm consumers and law-abiding businesses alike. The FTC will continue to vigorously protect Americans from “dark patterns” and other unfair or deceptive practices in digital markets.”

For now, the FTC’s complaint is significantly redacted, though the FTC has told the Court it does not find the need for ongoing secrecy compelling.

Nevertheless, the complaint contains a number of allegations related to the company’s decision not to make changes to prevent nonconsensual enrollment in Prime and the difficulties consumers faced in attempting to unsubscribe from the service.

Specifically, the complaint charges that Amazon used so-called “dark patterns” to cause consumers to enroll in Prime without their consent, in violation of the FTC Act, and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act.

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The complaint says that during Amazon’s online checkout process, consumers were faced with numerous opportunities to subscribe to Amazon Prime at $14.99/month.

The FTC charges that in many cases, the option to purchase items on Amazon without subscribing to Prime was more difficult for consumers to locate. In some cases, the button presented to consumers to complete their transaction did not clearly state that in choosing that option they were also agreeing to join Prime for a recurring subscription.

Consumers who attempted to cancel Prime were faced with multiple steps to actually accomplish the task of canceling, according to the complaint.

Consumers had to first locate the cancellation flow, which Amazon made difficult, according to the FTC.

Once they located the cancellation flow, they were redirected to multiple pages that presented several offers to continue the subscription at a discounted price, to simply turn off the auto-renew feature, or to decide not to cancel. Only after clicking through these pages could consumers finally cancel the service.

The complaint notes that Amazon was aware of consumers being nonconsensually enrolled and the complex and confusing process to cancel Prime that the company’s executives failed to take any meaningful steps to address the issues until they were aware of the FTC investigation. In the complaint, the FTC also alleges that Amazon attempted to delay and hinder the Commission’s investigation in multiple instances.

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 3-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

In a statement to The Free Press, an Amazon Spokesperson said, “The FTC’s claims are false on the facts and the law. The truth is that customers love Prime, and by design we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership. As with all our products and services, we continually listen to customer feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience, and we look forward to the facts becoming clear as this case plays out. We also find it concerning that the FTC announced this lawsuit without notice to us, in the midst of our discussions with FTC staff members to ensure they understand the facts, context, and legal issues, and before we were able to have a dialog with the Commissioners themselves before they filed a lawsuit. While the absence of that normal course engagement is extremely disappointing, we look forward to proving our case in court.”

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