Federal regulators claim that Amazon forced Prime subscriptions onto consumers, and then made it unnecessarily difficult to cancel their memberships.
The Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit against Amazon, claiming that the company the company embarked on a years-long campaign to deceive millions of consumers into signing up for its Prime service.
According to The New York Times, the F.T.C. alleges that Amazon “duped millions of consumers” into obtaining Prime memberships, largely through the use of “manipulative, coercive or deceptive” design tactics.
In its complaint, the F.T.C. also accused Amazon of making it exceedingly difficult for customers to cancel their Prime subscriptions.
“Amazon tricked and trapped people into recurring subscriptions without their consent, not only frustrating users but also costing them significant money,” F.T.C. Chair Lina Khan said in a statement.
Kyle Morse, a deputy executive director at the Tech Oversight Project, told The Guardian that Amazon regularly engages in potentially abusive practices.
“Amazon’s monopoly over online shopping has resulted in a race to the bottom for the rest of us – violating our privacy, scamming us into keeping Prime memberships, and blocking us from even seeing the best available products,” Morse said. “Jeff Bezos and Amazon represent the very worst of big tech, and their contempt for their customers is glaringly obvious in how they conduct business.”
The Guardian notes that, although the lawsuit is heavily redacted, the F.T.C. claims to have evidence in support of its allegations.
However, Amazon has since pushed back against the government’s complaint, saying that Prime subscriptions are on the rise because consumers simply enjoy the product.
“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,” Amazon spokesperson Heather Layman said in a statement. “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 F.T.C. acknowledged that, while Amazon changed some of its Prime subscription practices shortly before the lawsuit was filed, the agency’s complaint relates to years of purportedly deceptive marketing strategies.
“However, before that time, the primary purpose of the Prime cancellation process was not to enable subscribers to cancel, but rather to thwart them,” the lawsuit alleges. “Fittingly, Amazon named that process ‘Iliad,’ which refers to Homer’s epic about the long, arduous Trojan War.”
The lawsuit observes that Amazon effectively fooled consumers into signing up for Prime “by presenting asymmetric choices that make it easier to enroll in Prime than not” during the checkout process.
When non-Prime customers attempt to make a purchase, F.T.C. attorneys wrote, Amazon “interrupts the consumers’ online shopping experience by presenting them with a prominent button to enroll in Prime and a comparatively inconspicuous link to decline.”
Federal regulators also claim that Amazon acted in bad faith through the F.T.C.’s investigation, causing significant and repeated delays.