Federal Trade Commission sues Amazon for ‘deceptive’ tactics

(The Center Square) – The Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon on Wednesday alleging the online retailer used “manipulative, coercive, or deceptive” practices to get customers to enroll in Prime subscriptions.

The Federal Trade Commission’s partially-redacted complaint alleges the company tricked millions of people into enrolling in Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime, a $139 annual subscription service that has fueled the company’s growth and made it part of many Americans daily routines.

“Amazon tricked and trapped people into recurring subscriptions without their consent, not only frustrating users but also costing them significant money,” Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan said in a statement. “These manipulative tactics harm consumers and law-abiding businesses alike.”

Amazon said the Federal Trade Commission was wrong about Prime, a feature that the company said customers love.

“The FTC’s claims are false on the facts and the law. 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,” a spokesperson said. “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.”

The company also said the Federal Trade Commission filed the suit without prior warning.

“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,” a spokesperson said. “While the absence of that normal course engagement is extremely disappointing, we look forward to proving our case in court.”

The complaint alleges Amazon “used manipulative, coercive, or deceptive user-interface designs known as ‘dark patterns’ to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically-renewing Prime subscriptions.” It further alleges the company made it difficult to cancel Prime.

“The primary purpose of its Prime cancellation process was not to enable subscribers to cancel, but to stop them,” according to the Federal Trade Commission. “Amazon leadership slowed or rejected changes that would’ve made it easier for users to cancel Prime because those changes adversely affected Amazon’s bottom line.”

The Federal Trade Commission said Amazon made its cancellation process so difficult it was referred to as an epic poem by Homer. 

“The FTC charges that Amazon put in place a cancellation process designed to deter consumers from successfully unsubscribing from Prime,” the commission said. “Previous reporting about the process in the media has noted that Amazon used the term ‘Iliad’ to describe the process, which the reporting cites as an allusion to Homer’s epic poem set over twenty-four books and nearly 16,000 lines about the decade-long Trojan War.”

The lawsuit came the same day Amazon announced the count down to its annual Prime Day. 

“Prime Day is all about making our Prime members feel like a big deal, with deep savings and access to some of the best offers from brands they love,” said Jamil Ghani, vice president of Amazon Prime.

Amazon Prime gives members access to free two-day shipping, music streaming, video streaming and photo storage.

By Brett Rowland | The Center Square

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