You ever balance your checkbook and notice a subscription you didn’t remember signing up for? The money for those Taylor Swift tickets has to come from somewhere, so you tighten your belt and call up the company to cancel that recurring $10 or so. Trust me, it adds up. You’re on the phone and the process is so damned annoying that you just decide to eat the monthly cost rather than repeatedly dial 0 to talk to a representative. If you haven’t experienced that, I get the hunch that someone working for the FTC did — and Amazon is in hot water over it. From Reuters:
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday accused Amazon.com (AMZN.O) of enrolling millions of consumers into its paid subscription Amazon Prime service without their consent and making it hard for them to cancel, the agency’s latest action against the ecommerce giant in recent weeks.
The FTC sued Amazon in federal court in Seattle, alleging that “Amazon has knowingly duped millions of consumers into unknowingly enrolling in Amazon Prime.” The FTC said Amazon used “manipulative, coercive or deceptive user-interface designs known as ‘dark patterns’ to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically renewing Prime subscriptions.”
The agency is seeking civil penalties and a permanent injunction to prevent future violations.
Now that you’ve read that, I’ll give you a few seconds to check your emails to see if you’ve been duped too. Now that you are either properly enraged or residually nosey about what’s gonna happen to Amazon, let’s get down to business.
Amazon’s business practices aren’t just annoying — the FTC alleges that they’re illegal.
Despite today being the first time that I’ve heard of the Restore Online Shoppers’s Confidence Act, I’ve got to say it’s one of my new favs. Here is a description of the violating behavior:
[I]t still “requires five clicks on desktop and six on mobile for consumers to cancel from Amazon.com.”…Consumers who attempted to cancel Prime were faced with multiple labyrinthine steps to accomplish the task of cancelling, according to the complaint. The FTC complaint said Amazon used the term “Iliad Flow” to describe the process it began in 2016, referencing Homer’s epic poem about the lengthy Trojan war.
Now I know that sounds silly. Is taking 5 to 6 clicks to cancel a service really legally actionable? I hear you, but remember — people aren’t always… as smart as you’d think they are. At this point, we all know at least a couple brilliant people who’ve had trouble opening pdfs or think that being on the phone still impacts the quality of your browsing. Deliberately obfuscating the cancellation process preys on folks who are having a hard enough time being on the site as is.
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.