FTC sues Amazon for ‘tricking’ people into subscribing Prime membership

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a complaint against Amazon accusing. That the e-commerce giant “knowingly” deceived millions of customers into enrolling them to Prime membership without their consent and making it difficult for them to cancel their subscription.

The antitrust agency said in its complaint that the FTC used “manipulative, coercive. Or deceptive user-interface designs”, known as “dark patterns”. To trick consumers into enrolling in automatically renewing Prime subscriptions.

“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 Khan.

Amazon ‘complicated membership cancellation’

According to the FTC also, Amazon knowingly complicated the cancellation process for Prime subscribers who wanted to end their membership. It alleged that the primary purpose of its Prime cancellation process was not to enable subscribers to cancel, but to stop them.

Amazon leadership is also accused of slowing down or rejecting changes. That would’ve made it easier for users to cancel Prime “because those changes adversely affected Amazon’s bottom line.”

“These manipulative tactics harm consumers and law-abiding businesses alike,” Khan added.

How Amazon allegedly ‘tricked’ customers

The FTC explained that during the online checkout process, consumers faced numerous opportunities to subscribe to Amazon Prime. In many cases, the option to purchase items on Amazon without subscribing to Prime was more difficult for consumers to locate, it added.

In some of the cases, the button that the consumers were supposed to use to complete the checkout process did not clearly state that in choosing that option they were also agreeing to join Prime for a recurring subscription.

It alleged Amazon required customers to go through multiple unnecessary steps before successfully unsubscribing from the program. The FTC alleged that consumers had to first locate the cancellation flow, which Amazon made difficult.

“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 said.

The complaint notes that Amazon was aware of the complex and confusing process to cancel Prime. And that the company failed to take any meaningful steps to address the issues “until they were aware of the FTC investigation.”

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