Amazon used “Dark Patterns” to trick millions into buying Prime – FTC

  • Amazon is being sued by the US Federal Trade Commission, which alleges that the ecommerce giant purposefully makes it difficult for users to unsubscribe from its Prime service.
  • The FTC alleges that Amazon uses something called “Dark Patterns” in its user interface to trick users into buying Prime.
  • Amazon has denied the allegations saying instead that users simply love Prime, which costs $15 a month.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has accused ecommerce giant Amazon of tricking millions of people into getting its paid subscription service, Amazon Prime. It alleges that the company enrols customers into the subscription service without their consent and makes it difficult for them to cancel it.

How did Amazon manage this? Well, according to a report from Reuters, Amazon used “manipulative, coercive or deceptive user-interface designs known as ‘dark patterns’ to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically renewing Prime subscriptions.”

Wired indicates that these “Dark Patterns” are a real type of user interface (UI) and experience design that funnels users towards doing what a company wants, such as buying a subscription. An example of this, is a design that leads the eye towards a “Subscribe” button and hides the “Unsubscribe” button either by making it tiny or by putting it behind many different menus.

This type of UI design might not be done intentionally, and some designers might not even by aware that they are taking part in creating “Dark Patterns.”

To the allegations, Amazon replied that they were “false on the facts and the law.” The FTC is still seeking penalties for what it says is the largest subscription programme in the world. It says that Amazon generates $25 billion in revenue annually from Prime, which gives users discounts, as well as access to its streaming services.

The FTC claims that customers who try to unsubscribe from Prime are met with “labyrinthine” steps in order to fulfil the cancellation process. Further, it alleges that Amazon committed “intentional misconduct” by trying to slow the FTC investigation by being stingy with requested documentation.

In South Africa, Prime Video costs R79 per month after a seven-day free trial, while the full Prime subscription itself can be found for $14.99 per month. And from what we can see from the local version of the site, it isn’t too difficult to find ongoing company subscriptions via the “Memberships and Subscriptions” tab, found through the dropdown menu attached to your account name.

“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 said in a statement.

Adding that it finds “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 dialogue with the commissioners themselves.”

The lawsuit from the FTC came one day after the company announced its Amazon Prime Day sales event, taking place this year on the 11th and 12th July.

US president Joe Biden’s administration has recently made several forays into reining in the country’s huge tech giants, and Amazon is in the crosshairs. Others that could be targeted include Apple and Meta.

[Image – Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash]


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