Amazon's 'dark patterns' alleged to have deceived millions of customers into signing up for seemingly endless Prime memberships

Amazon box
(Image credit: Amazon)

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is suing Amazon for an alleged "years-long effort" to enroll consumers into its subscription service without their consent "while knowingly making it difficult for consumers to cancel their subscriptions to Prime."

According to the complaint, Amazon has been using "manipulative, coercive, or deceptive user-interface designs known as dark patterns to trick consumers" into signing up for automatically renewing Amazon Prime memberships. The FTC claims that this practice has been going on for years and violates the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers' Confidence Act.

The FTC further alleges that Amazon intentionally made purchasing and locating items difficult for users not subscribed to Prime. According to a statement, when customers did sign up for Prime, "the button provided to consumers to finalize their transaction did not explicitly indicate that selecting that option would also result in joining Prime with a recurring subscription."

And when it came to customers trying to cancel Amazon Prime, the FTC says the online retailer said it used  "dark patterns" to make the process deliberately challenging. Any attempt to cancel or turn off the auto-renew feature of an Amazon Prime subscription required users to click through numerous pages filled with offers of discount Prime services before finally being able to cancel.

The FTC asserts that the cancellation process was intentionally designed to "discourage consumers from successfully unsubscribing from Prime." The complaint says that Amazon referred to this multi-layered cancellation process that started in 2016 internally by code-name "Iliad" or the "Iliad Flow,” seemingly inspired by the massive poem about the "long, arduous Trojan War." 

FTC Chair Lina M. Khan expressed that Amazon had "tricked and trapped" individuals into subscribing to Amazon Prime. She emphasized, "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."

In response, Amazon issued a statement to Reuters refuting the FTC's allegations, stating that they are "false on the facts and the law." Additionally, Amazon claimed 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."

In April, Amazon changed its Prime cancellation process, lessening the number of clicks it takes to cancel or turn off auto-renew on mobile and desktop. I'm sure that was also an act of "love," not the result of growing pressure from a regulating body that's been investigating it for years. 


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Jorge Jimenez
Hardware writer, Human Pop-Tart

Jorge is a hardware writer from the enchanted lands of New Jersey. When he's not filling the office with the smell of Pop-Tarts, he's reviewing all sorts of gaming hardware, from laptops with the latest mobile GPUs to gaming chairs with built-in back massagers. He's been covering games and tech for over ten years and has written for Dualshockers, WCCFtech, Tom's Guide, and a bunch of other places on the world wide web.