Industry / Legal / Retail

FTC Sues Amazon Over Prime Cancellation Policies


The Federal Trade Commission has sued Amazon, claiming the e-tail giant made it deliberately difficult and confusing for consumers to cancel their Prime subscriptions.

“Amazon used manipulative, coercive, or deceptive user interface designs known as ‘dark patterns’ to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically renewing Prime subscriptions,” says an FTC statement.

The heavily redacted complaint, filed June 21 in the Western District of Washington federal court, charges that Amazon “knowingly complicated” the cancellation process for subscribers of the $14.99-a-month service.

According to the FTC, customers had to complete multiple steps to terminate their membership: First, they had to locate the cancellation option, which wasn’t easy; then they were redirected to multiple pages, which presented several offers to keep Prime at a discounted price or the choice not to cancel. Only after clicking through these pages could they finally end their membership.

“The primary purpose of the Prime cancellation process was not to enable subscribers to cancel, but rather to thwart them,” according to the complaint. “Fittingly, Amazon named that process ‘Iliad,’ which refers to Homer’s epic about the long, arduous Trojan War.”

In some cases, the FTC alleges, consumers were misled into joining Prime by clicking certain buttons, “which did not clearly state that in choosing that option they were also agreeing to join Prime for a recurring subscription.”

The FTC says Amazon also engaged in “sneaking” —a technique where a design element deliberately hides or disguises relevant information.

“Amazon uses sneaking by failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose Prime’s terms and conditions during its enrollment checkout flow, including its price and auto-renew attribute,” the lawsuit says. “Amazon also employs sneaking by failing to show Prime’s price or its auto-renewal feature in the consumer’s cart.”

The FTC notes that Amazon “substantially revamped” the Prime cancellation process prior to the complaint’s filing. “However, the cancellation process still contains problematic elements,” it says. “Amazon still requires five clicks on desktop and six on mobile for consumers to cancel…. And both flows still require consumers to proceed through extraneous information unnecessary to the cancellation process.”

Amazon’s actions violated the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act, the FTC says in the suit. It seeks an injunction against any future violations and unspecified damages.

In a response, Amazon called the FTC’s claims “false on the facts and the law.”

“We make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for and to cancel their Prime membership,” the company said. “As with all our products and services, we continually listen to customer feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience.”

Amazon’s statement said it was “concerning” that the FTC filed the lawsuit without notice while the two sides were in the midst of discussions.

(Photo courtesy of Amazon)


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By: Rob Bates

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