The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) filed a lawsuit on June 21, 2023 against Amazon for enrolling consumers into its Amazon Prime program without their consent. They knowingly make it difficult for their subscribers to cancel.
Amazon allegedly uses dark patterns and design tactics to manipulate customers to discourage them from canceling their subscriptions, whether after a free trial or as a regular Prime member.
According to the FTC, Amazon’s online checkout process made it easier for consumers to accidentally subscribe to Amazon Prime, which costs $14.99 per month, rather than to purchase their desired items without a subscription. Additionally, the language used in the payment button that consumers clicked on did not make it clear that by doing so, they were agreeing to a recurring subscription to Amazon Prime.
Furthermore, the FTC alleges that Amazon made it difficult for consumers to cancel their subscriptions to Prime. They intentionally implement intimidating and discouraging cancellation processes. Media outlets have noted that Amazon referred to this cancellation process as “Iliad,” interpreted as referencing Homer’s epic poem about the Trojan War.
A Global Problem Requiring Global Solutions
A Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) study in 2021 revealed that Amazon used various techniques. These include complex navigation menus, tilted wording, illogical options, and repeated nudging, to prevent users from canceling their Prime memberships.
Sixteen organizations in Europe and the U.S. have been taking steps against Amazon based on the Norwegian Consumer Council’s report. Their consumer authorities will investigate the use of dark patterns in their countries.
NCC’s joint campaign with seven other European consumer organizations in 2018 alleged Google’s use of dark patterns. The Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s office is investigating how Google influences users into turning on extensive location tracking.
The Consumer Protection Authority wants to set an example by issuing a complaint against Amazon that dark patterns are not following European law.
According to Finn Lützow-Holm Myrstad, Director of Digital Policy at the NCC, it should be easy to end a subscription. Amazon should facilitate a good user experience instead of tricking them to continue paying for services they do not need.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) June 22, 2023
FTC: Amazon’s Cancellation Process
Amazon’s process for canceling a Prime membership is not simple. Customers must navigate through several functions before getting the option to “End membership.”
Additionally, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) refers to the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act, requiring negative option sales on the Internet. This simple mechanism will help consumers stop recurring charges on their debit card, credit card, or other financial accounts.
CFA and other groups sent a letter to FTC to investigate Amazon’s practices and take appropriate action for any U.S. law violations. Similarly, they will urge Congress to consider legislation prohibiting the use of dark patterns online. This move prevents consumers from experiencing the ordeal Amazon’s customers face when attempting to cancel their subscriptions.
Written by Janet Grace Ortigas
CNN: FTC sues Amazon, alleging it tricked consumers into signing up for Prime
By Brian Fung
Consumer Federation of America: Amazon’s “Dark Patterns” & How They Keep You From Cancelling Prime; by Susan Grant
FORBRUKERRADET: Amazon manipulates customers to stay subscribed
Federal Trade Commission: FTC Takes Action Against Amazon for Enrolling Consumers in Amazon Prime Without Consent and Sabotaging Their Attempts to Cancel
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