Amazon faces FTC probe for adding Prime subscriptions without consent

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has initiated legal action against Amazon.com, the leading ecommerce company, for enrolling consumers in its Prime program without their knowledge or consent.
Amazon e-commerce product
Furthermore, Amazon.com deliberately created obstacles for customers attempting to cancel their Prime subscriptions.

Amazon.com has nearly 150 million Prime subscriptions in the United States, according to media reports.

In the filed complaint, the FTC accuses Amazon of deceiving consumers by utilizing manipulative and coercive user-interface designs to trick them into automatically renewing Prime subscriptions without their awareness.

Amazon also intentionally complicated the cancellation process for Prime subscribers who wished to terminate their memberships. The primary objective of the cancellation process was not to facilitate easy cancellations but rather to impede them. Amazon’s leadership deliberately obstructed or delayed changes that could have simplified the cancellation process, as such modifications would have had a negative impact on the company’s financial performance.

FTC Chair Lina M. Khan expressed concern over Amazon’s actions, stating that the company misled and trapped people into recurring subscriptions without their consent, resulting in frustration and significant financial losses for consumers.

Lina Khan emphasized that such manipulative tactics harm both consumers and law-abiding businesses. The FTC remains committed to vigorously protecting individuals from “dark patterns” and other unfair or deceptive practices in digital markets.

Although the FTC’s complaint is partially redacted, the Commission has indicated to the court that ongoing secrecy is unnecessary. Nevertheless, the complaint contains numerous allegations regarding Amazon’s deliberate choice not to implement changes preventing non-consensual enrollment in Prime and the difficulties encountered by consumers seeking to unsubscribe from the service. The complaint asserts that Amazon violated the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act by employing “dark patterns” to induce involuntary enrollment in Prime.

During Amazon’s online checkout process, customers were repeatedly presented with opportunities to subscribe to Amazon Prime at a monthly fee of $14.99. In many instances, the option to make purchases on Amazon without subscribing to Prime was deliberately made harder to find. Additionally, the button used to complete transactions did not explicitly indicate that selecting that option would also enroll the customer in a recurring Prime subscription.

The FTC alleges that Amazon implemented a cancellation process specifically designed to discourage consumers from successfully unsubscribing from Prime.

Online consumers faced multiple steps and hurdles when attempting to cancel Prime. They had to locate the cancellation flow, which Amazon intentionally made challenging. Once found, consumers were redirected to multiple pages offering various discounted subscription options, the ability to disable auto-renewal, or the choice not to cancel. Only after navigating through these pages could consumers finally cancel the service.

FTC asserts that Amazon’s executives were aware of the non-consensual enrollments and the convoluted cancellation process. However, they failed to take meaningful action to address these issues until they became aware of the FTC’s investigation. Amazon.com made multiple attempts to delay and obstruct the Commission’s investigation.

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