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EU forces Amazon to make it easier to cancel Prime subscriptions in Europe

EU forces Amazon to make it easier to cancel Prime subscriptions in Europe

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Amazon dodges questions on whether similar changes will be made in the US

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Amazon has agreed to simplify the process of canceling Prime in Europe, meaning customers in the region will be able to end their subscription in just two clicks, the European Commission has announced. The changes, which were implemented as of July 1st, should bring to an end the “multiple pages” filled with “distracting information” and “unclear button labels” that Amazon has previously used to add friction to the cancellation process.

The European Commission says the changes apply to the European Union and European Economic Area. Despite the UK having left the former as of the beginning of 2020, The Guardian reports that UK subscribers will also benefit from the two-click unsubscribe process. But when contacted for comment, a spokesperson for Amazon dodged questions about whether it would implement similar changes in the US, saying it has “no changes to announce at this time.”

Screenshots of the new, simplified cancellation procedure.
Screenshots of the new, simplified cancellation procedure.
Image: European Commission

“Customer transparency and trust are top priorities for us,” spokesperson Bradley Mattinger said in an emailed statement. “By design we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership. We continually listen to feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience, and have no changes to announce at this time.”

Amazon has agreed to make the changes following a complaint by EU consumer groups including the Norwegian Consumer Council, which produced a lengthy report on Amazon’s opaque Prime cancellation process in January 2021. The report contains screenshots of the multiple pages users have to scroll through to cancel a subscription, which it said contains “manipulative design techniques” also known as “dark patterns.” 

Examples of the previous unsubscribe process highlighted in a report.
Examples of the previous unsubscribe process highlighted in a report.
Screenshots: Amazon

The European Commission says Amazon needed to change its process to comply with the bloc’s Unfair commercial practices directive. Amazon had previously agreed to change its web interface to label the cancel button more clearly and shorten distracting text, but now it says it’ll shorten this explanatory text even further. The changes will be made across desktop, mobile, and tablet.

“Consumers must be able to exercise their rights without any pressure from platforms,” Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said in a statement. “One thing is clear: manipulative design or “dark patterns” must be banned. I welcome Amazon’s commitment to simplify their practices to allow consumers to unsubscribe freely and easily.”

Future EU legislation could clamp down on user interfaces like these even further. The forthcoming Digital Services Act (DSA), which EU lawmakers provisionally agreed to earlier this year is expected to contain explicit prohibitions related to the use of “dark patterns.” The DSA is expected to come into force 15 months after being voted into law, or from January 1st, 2024, whichever is later.