FTC Sues Amazon over Tricking Users with ‘Dark Patterns,’ ‘Sabotaging’ Cancellation Process

The FTC is suing Amazon, accusing the tech giant of using deceptive design tactics known as “dark patterns” meant to steer customers into making a specific choice, such as signing up for its Prime program, as well as sabotaging their attempts to cancel.

The FTC filed the lawsuit on Wednesday, claiming Amazon violated the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act when it intentionally tricked millions of its consumers into signing up for Prime and then “sabotaged” their attempts to cancel, according to a report by CNBC.

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

The FTC had reportedly been investigating the sign-up and cancellation processes for Amazon’s Prime program since March 2021.

Amazon leaders slowed down or rejected changes that would have made it easier for its customers to cancel Prime, because the changes “adversely affected Amazon’s bottom line,” the suit claims. Web designs intended to confuse users and lead them to make certain choices are known in the industry as dark patterns, and are frequent targets of government investigation.

The lawsuit goes on to accuse the online retailer giant of making it difficult for customers to purchase items from its site without using Prime. The complaint also states that a button instructing users to complete their transaction did not clearly state that they were also agreeing to join Prime for a recurring subscription fee.

Additionally, the cancellation process is difficult to navigate, and it is designed to deter consumers from ending their Prime subscription, the FTC said, adding that the company even used an internal term called “Iliad” to describe the process, which refers to a poem by Homer about the Trojan War.

Wednesday’s lawsuit makes for the third lawsuit the FTC has filed against Amazon in the last month.

In May, Amazon agreed to pay more than $30 million to settle FTC allegations regarding the violation of privacy laws by holding onto children’s data, including voice and geolocation information, despite parental requests for its deletion.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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