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FTC sues Amazon for tricking customers into signing up for Prime

FTC sues Amazon for tricking customers into signing up for Prime


The complaint hinges on Amazon’s alleged use of ‘dark patterns.’

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Illustration: Alex Castro / The Verge

The Federal Trade Commission is suing Amazon for enrolling customers in its Prime program without their consent and making it difficult for them to cancel their subscriptions.

In its complaint filed Wednesday, the FTC accuses Amazon of “knowingly” deceiving millions of customers into subscribing to Amazon Prime through the use of “dark patterns.” Specifically, the FTC describes how Amazon’s checkout process would allegedly present customers several options to subscribe to Prime, making it difficult to locate the option to simply finish a purchase. The commission also alleges that Amazon required customers to go through multiple unnecessary steps before successfully unsubscribing from the program.

“Amazon tricked and trapped people into recurring subscriptions without their consent, not only frustrating users but also costing them significant money,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said in a statement Wednesday. “These manipulative tactics harm consumers and law-abiding businesses alike.

Much of Wednesday’s complaint is still redacted, but the FTC said that it describes several opportunities Amazon had to prevent these allegedly coercive enrollments but chose not to make the changes. 

In a statement to The Verge, Amazon spokesperson Heather Layman said “The FTC’s claims are false on the facts and the law. 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.”

Layman also said that the FTC did not notify Amazon prior to announcing this lawsuit. “While the absence of that normal course engagement is extremely disappointing, we look forward to proving our case in court,” Layman said.

In recent years, the FTC has ramped up its scrutiny over dark patterns, design tricks deployed by digital service providers to deceive customers into making unintentional purchases. Last December, Fortnite maker Epic Games paid out $520 million in relief to settle FTC charges that it duped players into buying a variety of in-game cosmetics. 

Last month, the FTC reached a $5.8 million settlement with Amazon over allegations that Ring employees spied on customers through their devices. In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that the agency was preparing a possible antitrust suit against the e-commerce giant.

Before being confirmed to the FTC, Khan rose to prominence after authoring a 2017 paper called “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” She later served on the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, playing a major role in investigating Amazon and other tech giants over anti-competitive behavior.

Updated June 21st, 2023 at 2:37 PM ET: Updated to include a statement from Amazon.