FTC Sues Amazon, Accuses Company of Deceptive Practices

June 21, 2023

The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday sued Amazon, accusing the online shopping giant of tricking consumers into signing up for its Prime program, then making it difficult to cancel.

In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, the FTC accused Amazon of deceptive designs called “dark patterns.” They’re meant to trick consumers into enrolling in Prime—at a cost of $139 per year or $14.99 per month—by making it more difficult to not opt to subscribe when purchasing items, according to the FTC. 

Internally, Amazon reportedly called the practice “Iliad” in reference to the Greek poem that introduced the Trojan horse into the lexicon. 

According to the FTC, Amazon execs also slowed or outright rejected changes that made canceling the subscription easier.

Amazon’s practices, said the complaint, violate both the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act. The latter law prohibits any post-transaction third party seller from charging an online customer “unless it has disclosed clearly all material terms of the transaction and obtained the consumer’s express informed consent to the charge.”

Amazon has more than 200 million members worldwide who pay for Prime. The 18-year-old service offers faster shipping, free delivery and returns as well as the streaming service Prime Video. In the first three months of this year, Amazon reported it made $9.6 billion from Prime subscriptions, up 17% from the same period last year.

Under scrutiny from the FTC as well as other, separate lawsuits, Amazon in March provided consumers with instructions on how to cancel their Prime memberships in a blog post.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a reporter’s request for comment Wednesday.

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