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FTC sues Amazon for subscribing consumers to Prime without consent

Amazon executives were reportedly aware of the problem, but took no action to fix it until the FTC investigation came to their attention.
An Amazon company logo is seen on the facade of the company's building.
Posted at 3:05 PM, Jun 21, 2023

The Federal Trade Commission has sued Amazon over allegations that it engaged in a yearslong effort to enroll consumers in its Prime membership without their consent, while also knowingly making it difficult for them to cancel the subscriptions.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, the FTC alleges that the e-commerce giant has tricked millions of consumers into signing up for its Amazon Prime subscription service by using deceptive interface designs referred to as "dark patterns."

"Amazon tricked and trapped people into recurring subscriptions without their consent, not only frustrating users but also costing them significant money," said FTC Chair Lina M. Khan in a statement."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."

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According to the FTC, Amazon's online checkout process repeatedly showed consumers options to subscribe to Amazon Prime for $14.99 a month. However, consumers were having a hard time finding the option to purchase items without subscribing to Prime, and some transaction buttons did not explicitly indicate that selecting them also meant enrolling in Prime.

Additionally, the complaint notes that once consumers realized they had a subscription and attempted to cancel it, not only was it hard for them to find out where to cancel, but they had to go through multiple steps to get it done, and oftentimes had to go through several webpages of offers to continue the subscription before getting to the page that would allow them to pause or cancel the service. Amazon executives were reportedly aware of this but took no action to fix the problem until the FTC investigation came to their attention.

Amazon has not responded to Scripps News' request for comment.