FTC sues Amazon, says company ‘duped’ customers into signing up for Prime

The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against online retail giant Amazon, claiming the company tricked customers into signing up for its Amazon Prime program and then made it difficult to cancel their memberships.

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In the lawsuit, the FTC accused Amazon of having “knowingly duped millions of consumers into unknowingly enrolling in its Amazon Prime service.”

Officials said the company used “dark patterns” on its website, described as “manipulative design elements that trick users into making decisions they would not otherwise have made,” to get customers to sign up for automatically-renewing Prime subscriptions.

An Amazon spokesperson called the FTC’s claims “false on the facts and the law” in a statement Wednesday.

“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,” the statement read. “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.”

In a news release, the FTC said consumers got numerous opportunities to subscribe for Amazon Prime during the company’s checkout process and that it was often more difficult for customers to checkout without signing up for the service.

“In some cases, the button presented to consumers to complete their transaction did not clearly state that in choosing that option they were also agreeing to join Prime for a recurring subscription,” officials said.

The company also made it difficult for consumers to cancel their Amazon Prime memberships, sending customers through a series of offers aimed to dissuade people from leaving, according to the FTC. In the lawsuit, officials said that Amazon revamped its cancellation process for some before the FTC filed its complaint Wednesday.

“However, prior to that time, the primary purpose of the Prime cancellation process was not to enable subscribers to cancel, but rather to thwart them,” officials said.

The lawsuit comes weeks after the company agreed to pay a $25 million civil penalty to the FTC related to its Alexa voice assistant. Officials said the company violated a children’s privacy law by keeping kids’ voice data indefinitely, even after parents asked for it to be deleted.

Amazon also agreed to pay $5.8 million for privacy violations related to its Ring doorbell cameras, according to the FTC.

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