the epoch times

FTC sues Amazon over Prime service cancellation hurdles.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken legal action against Amazon for allegedly enrolling customers in its Prime program without their consent and then devising an elaborate scheme to prevent them from unsubscribing.

The consumer protection agency made the allegations in a lawsuit (pdf) filed on June 21 at the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington.

“Amazon used manipulative, coercive, or deceptive user-interface designs known as ‘dark patterns’ to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically-renewing Prime subscriptions,” the agency said in a statement.

The FTC accused Amazon of “cancellation trickery” and knowingly failing to address non-consensual subscriptions to the Prime service, which comes at a monthly charge of $14.99.

A subscription to Prime buys access to Prime Video, as well as free Amazon delivery and faster shipping. In the first quarter of 2023, Prime accounted for some $9.6 billion in Amazon earnings.

An Amazon spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that the FTC’s allegations are “false” and that its process for joining or leaving Prime is “clear and simple.”

Unsubscribing from Prime: The ‘Iliad Flow’

The consumer protection agency said in its complaint that Amazon intentionally designed its process for unsubscribing from Prime to be so onerous that the company internally referred to it as the “Iliad,” an epic story about the long and grueling Trojan War that spans over 24 books.

“Amazon designed the Iliad cancellation process (‘Iliad Flow’) to be labyrinthine,” the agency claimed, while alleging that Amazon leadership “slowed or rejected user experience changes that would have made Iliad simpler for consumers because those changes adversely affected Amazon’s bottom line.”

In order to cancel Prime, consumers must click through multiple pages where they’re faced with confusing options, with many selections taking customers out of the “Iliad Flow” so that in order to unsubscribe, they would have to start the process all over again.

“On the eighth and final page, Amazon presented five buttons,” the FTC said in the complaint. “Only the fifth and final button (‘End Now’) immediately canceled the membership.”

“Amazon did not design the Iliad Flow to be simple or easy for consumers,” the agency continued. “The Iliad Flow inhibits or prevents many consumers who intend to cancel from canceling their membership.”

Nonconsensual Enrollment

The problem of enrolling customers in Prime without their consent was also well known at Amazon, the consumer protection agency said in the complaint.

A number of Amazon employees pressed the company’s executives to address “nonconsensual enrollment” and make changes so that the firm would not be tricking its customers, the FTC said.

However, despite the issue being flagged for action internally, Amazon and its leadership “slowed, avoided, and even undid user experience changes that they knew would reduce Nonconsensual Enrollment because those changes would also negatively affect Amazon’s bottom line.”

As with the elaborate scheme to prevent unsubscribing, Amazon’s actions regarding nonconsensual enrollment raise concerns about the company’s commitment to consumer rights.



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