Amazon sued in the US for tricking millions into signing up for Prime

22 Jun 2023

Image: © gguy/

The FTC argued that Amazon used ‘dark patterns’ to get new Prime memberships without consent and consciously made it harder for users to unsubscribe.

With less than three weeks to go to Prime Day, Amazon has received bad news from the top regulator in the US.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is suing the e-commerce giant for allegedly tricking millions of customers into subscribing to a Prime membership and making it hard to cancel the subscription.

In a complaint filed yesterday (21 June), the FTC said that Amazon has for years enrolled consumers into its Prime programme, which gives them access to premium services such as free deliveries and streaming entertainment for $14.99 a month, without their consent. The regulator alleges that Amazon did so “while knowingly making it difficult” for consumers to cancel their subscriptions to Prime.

The FTC described Amazon’s user interface as “manipulative, coercive or deceptive” and that it used “dark patterns” to trick customers into enrolling in automatically renewing Prime subscriptions.

FTC chair Lina Khan said this resulted in “not only frustrating users, but also costing them significant money”.

“These manipulative tactics harm consumers and law-abiding businesses alike. The FTC will continue to vigorously protect Americans from ‘dark patterns’ and other unfair or deceptive practices in digital markets.”

The regulator noted that the actions it has accused Amazon of go against US laws, specifically the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act.

“Amazon was aware of consumers being non-consensually enrolled and the complex and confusing process to cancel Prime [but] the company’s executives failed to take any meaningful steps to address the issues until they were aware of the FTC investigation,” read a statement.

Filed in a US district court in Washington, the FTC complaint also alleges that Amazon attempted to “delay and hinder” the commission’s investigation in multiple instances.

Across the pond

This is not the first time Amazon has been called out by regulators for complicating the unsubscribing process.

A year ago, the US giant committed to making it easier for users to cancel their Prime subscription to comply with EU rules following a dialogue with the European Commission and national consumer protection authorities.

These consumer authorities noted “a large number of hurdles” to unsubscribe from Amazon’s service, such as complicated navigation menus, skewed wording, confusing choices and repeated nudging.

“Consumers must be able to exercise their rights without any pressure from platforms,” EU commissioner for justice Didier Reynders said at the time. “Opting for an online subscription can be very handy for consumers as it is often a very straightforward process, but the reverse action of unsubscribing should be just as easy. One thing is clear: manipulative design or ‘dark patterns’ must be banned.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic