FTC Files Complaint Against Amazon for Allegedly Enrolling Consumers in Prime Without Consent and Making it Difficult to Cancel
On June 21, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission announced an action against Amazon.com, Inc. for allegedly enrolling consumers in its Prime program without consent and knowingly making it difficult for consumers to cancel their subscriptions.
The redacted complaint charges that Amazon knowingly tricked millions of consumers into enrolling in Amazon Prime using manipulative, coercive or deceptive user-interface designs known as “dark patterns” to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically-renewing Prime subscriptions. The FTC further charges that Amazon knowingly complicated the cancellation process for Prime subscribers who sought to end their membership.
“Amazon tricked and trapped people into recurring subscriptions without their consent, not only frustrating users but also costing them significant money,” said FTC attorney and Chair Lina M. Khan. “These manipulative tactics harm consumers and law-abiding businesses alike. The FTC will continue to vigorously protect Americans from “dark patterns” and other unfair or deceptive practices in digital markets.”
The complaint contains a number of allegations related to the company’s alleged decision not to make changes to prevent nonconsensual enrollment in Prime and the purproted problems consumers faced in attempting to unsubscribe from the service. Specifically, the complaint alleged that Amazon used so-called “dark patterns” to cause consumers to enroll in Prime without their consent, in violation of the FTC Act, and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act.
During Amazon’s online checkout process, consumers were faced with numerous opportunities to subscribe to Amazon Prime at $14.99/month, according to the FTC. The FTC alleges that in many cases, the option to purchase items on Amazon without subscribing to Prime was more difficult for consumers to locate. The FTC further charges that in some cases, the button presented to consumers to complete their transaction did not clearly state that in choosing that option they were also agreeing to join Prime for a recurring subscription.
The FTC charges that Amazon put in place a cancellation process designed to deter consumers from successfully unsubscribing from Prime.
Consumers who attempted to cancel Prime were allegedly faced with multiple steps to actually accomplish the task of cancelling.
According to the FTC, consumers had to first locate the cancellation flow, which Amazon purporetedly made difficult. Once they located the cancellation flow, they were allegedly redirected to multiple pages that presented several offers to continue the subscription at a discounted price, to simply turn off the auto-renew feature, or to decide not to cancel. Only after clicking through these pages could consumers finally cancel the service, the FTC alleges.
The complaint alleges that Amazon was aware of consumers being nonconsensually enrolled and the complex and confusing process to cancel Prime that the company’s executives failed to take any meaningful steps to address the issues until they were aware of the FTC investigation.
The FTC also alleges that Amazon attempted to delay and hinder the FTC’s investigation.
Richard B. Newman is an digital advertising practices attorney at Hinch Newman LLP. Follow FTC defense lawyer on National Law Review.