The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint Wednesday against e-commerce giant Amazon for allegedly enrolling consumers into Amazon Prime without their consent and making it difficult to cancel 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,” the FTC said in a press release announcing its lawsuit.
The details: The commission’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, alleged Amazon made it more difficult for consumers not subscribed to Prime to purchase items, and in some cases, did not clearly state purchasing items would enroll them in Prime with recurring payments.
When Prime members tried to cancel their membership, Amazon used its “Iliad Flow” cancellation process, an allusion to the lengthy “Iliad” poem, to purposefully complicate the process, the FTC alleged.
“The Iliad Flow required consumers intending to cancel to navigate a four-page, six-click, 15-option cancellation process,” the FTC’s complaint stated. “In contrast, customers could enroll in Prime with one or two clicks.”
The cancellation process was launched by Amazon in 2016 and did not substantially change in the United States until April, after pressure from the commission and shortly before the complaint was filed.
Amazon executives failed to take “meaningful steps to address the issues until they were aware of the FTC investigation,” according to the agency’s release. The complaint stated certain executives “slowed, avoided, and even undid user experience changes” because they would “negatively affect Amazon’s bottom line.”
The FTC’s complaint is significantly redacted, but the agency said it told the court it “does not find the need for ongoing secrecy compelling.”
Amazon “attempted to delay and hinder” the investigation in multiple instances, the FTC alleged, but the agency provided no further details in the redacted complaint.
Company response: “The FTC’s claims are false on the facts and the law,” said an Amazon spokesperson in an emailed statement. “The truth is that customers love Prime, and by design we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership.
“As with all our products and services, we continually listen to customer feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience, and we look forward to the facts becoming clear as this case plays out. We also find it concerning that the FTC announced this lawsuit without notice to us, in the midst of our discussions with FTC staff members to ensure they understand the facts, context, and legal issues, and before we were able to have a dialog with the commissioners themselves before they filed a lawsuit. While the absence of that normal course engagement is extremely disappointing, we look forward to proving our case in court.”