The FTC Says Amazon Is Duping People Into Enrolling in Prime

The newly filed complaint also suggests the shopping giant is making it difficult to cancel those Prime memberships

June 21, 2023 2:03 pm
An Amazon electric delivery truck, developed by electric vehicle maker Rivian, makes deliveries in a residential neighborhood in Lafayette, California, with Amazon Prime logo visible, December 20, 2022.
Amazon is even enrolling people in its Prime program without consent
Gado/Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission is taking action against Amazon. In a new complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, the agency suggested the company had enrolled customers into its Prime program without their consent and then made it difficult to cancel their memberships.

In a press release, the recently very active FTC claims Amazon used “manipulative, coercive or deceptive user-interface designs known as ‘dark patterns’ to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically-renewing Prime subscriptions.” One example cited: during the checkout process, consumers were faced with several opportunities to subscribe to Amazon Prime for $14.99 per month, but the option to purchase those items without a Prime subscription was difficult to locate on the page.

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While the current complaint is heavily redacted, the agency also noted that Amazon slowed or rejected changes that would have made it easier for customers to cancel Prime. Instead, consumers were faced with multiple steps to accomplish the task and redirected to pages that offered reduced Prime pricing, an end to auto-renew or even an option not to cancel. Interestingly, Amazon’s drawn-out cancellation process was internally known as Iliad, named after the epic Greek poem (and according to Insider, it apparently worked, as cancellations were down by 14% in the year the program launched).

“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.”

Per The New York Times, this isn’t the first back-and-forth between Amazon and the FTC. The shopping giant (which has yet to comment on the current complaint) recently settled some older cases, including $25 million to settle FTC claims that Amazon’s Alexa home assistant devices illegally collected children’s data, as well as a privacy case involving Amazon’s Ring home security subsidiary.

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