The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a new lawsuit against Amazon

June 26, 2023 by
Frank Calviño

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a new lawsuit against Amazon. The FTC is once again pointing the finger at the company founded by Jeff Bezos and, on this occasion, has accused the company of "misleading" its users to get them to subscribe and renew "without their consent" the Amazon Prime service and then making it difficult to cancel the paid service.

The lawsuit against Amazon includes four civil counts against the company for "manipulative, coercive or deceptive user interface." It seeks a permanent injunction on that conduct, as well as monetary penalties. 

Specifically, the lawsuit claims Amazon used manipulative, coercive, or deceptive user interface designs known as "dark patterns" to trick consumers into signing up for Prime subscriptions that automatically renewed.

According to the lawsuit, Amazon knowingly increased the difficulty of the cancellation process for Prime subscribers seeking to end their membership. The primary purpose of its Prime cancellation process was not to allow subscribers to cancel but to stop them. 

Amazon's leadership slowed or rejected changes that would have made it easier for users to cancel Prime because those changes negatively affected Amazon's bottom line, the brief states. 

In addition, before April 2023, when the platform made changes, the purchase buttons did not indicate that, in some instances, one agreed to join a recurring subscription by completing the purchase. Once subscribed, they add, the cancellation process was challenging to find.

Amazon’s lawsuit claims Prime cancellation was a "labyrinthine" 

The document further notes that Amazon designed that unsubscribe flow to be "labyrinthine" and even referred to it internally as "Iliad," referring to Homer's Greek epic about the long and arduous Trojan War. 

Specifically, there were two possibilities for unsubscribing: by going through various pages on desktop and mobile browsers or by contacting customer service.

The lawsuit alleges that Amazon knew consumers were signing up without consent and the complex and confusing process for canceling Prime. It accuses company executives of failing to take any meaningful action to address the problems until they learn of the FTC's investigation. 

In brief, the FTC notes that Amazon attempted to delay and obstruct the Commission's investigation in multiple instances. Prime membership costs $14.99 per month or $139 per year in exchange for perks such as free shipping on merchandise and access to Amazon's online entertainment programs and movies.

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