US market regulator charges Amazon with duping customers into subscribing to Prime

The United States’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a lawsuit against Jeff Bezos' Amazon for allegedly enrolling customers in its Prime subscription service "without their consent while knowingly making it difficult for consumers to cancel their subscriptions to Prime". 

Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos at the launch of Amazon Spheres in Seattle. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia

In a complaint filed yesterday, the FTC stated that Amazon knowingly duped millions of consumers into unknowingly enrolling in Amazon Prime. Specifically, Amazon used manipulative user-interface designs known as “dark patterns” to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically-renewing Prime subscriptions.

"In many cases, the option to purchase items on Amazon without subscribing to Prime was more difficult for consumers to locate," the FTC explained. "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."

The FTC also accused Amazon of making it challenging for customers to cancel their subscriptions to Prime. 

"The primary purpose of its Prime cancellation process was not to enable subscribers to cancel, but to stop them," the press release read. "Amazon leadership slowed or rejected changes that would’ve made it easier for users to cancel Prime because those changes adversely affected Amazon’s bottom line."

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

According to media reports, Amazon used the term ‘Iliad flow’ to describe the process of cancelling its Prime subscription, which the reporting cites as an allusion to Homer’s epic poem set over twenty-four books and nearly 16,000 lines about the decade-long Trojan War.

Consumers who attempted to cancel Prime were faced with multiple steps to actually accomplish the task of cancelling, according to the complaint. Consumers had to first locate the cancellation flow, which Amazon made difficult.


“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," said an Amazon spokesperson in an email sent to IGN. "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 recent years the FTC has cracked down on companies that exhibit "dark pattern" behavior that companies used to make it difficult to cancel some subscription services. A recent example of this includes the agency fining Epic Games more than USD 500 million last year, claiming the developer "tricked" players into making unintentional purchases in its popular free-to-play battle royale Fortnite. 

The announcement of the FTC taking legal action against Amazon over its dark patterns comes less than a day after Amazon officially announced the dates for Prime Day 2023.