Amazon has been accused of using deceptive practices by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). On June 21st, the FTC alleged that the e-commerce whale had purposely tricked millions of consumers by forcing them to sign up for Prime subscriptions through deceptive user interface designs.
Over the last few years there have been mounting complaints against Amazon Prime’s sign up and cancellation processes. Accusations of purposeful initiatives on behalf of Amazon proclaim that the mega corporation created a process designed not to help members, but misdirect them.
In response to the numerous complaints, The Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) launched an investigation, and in Jan 2021, they released a report titled, “You Can Log Out, But You Can Never Leave: How Amazon manipulates consumers to keep them subscribed to Amazon.”
The report concluded that Amazon’s practices are purposely designed to be unfair and deceptive in order to undermine the will of the consumer. The practices examined in the report included, “forced continuity programs that make it difficult to cancel charges, trick questions to frustrate user choice, and free trials that automatically convert into paid memberships.”
Amazon was accused of manipulating users through specific graphic designs and aloof wording in order to make the process of cancellation unnecessary challenging and difficult to understand. Below are screen shots from my recent attempt to cancel my Prime membership. Although I clicked “cancel membership” after three more screens I arrived at a screen which says “End my Benefits” not “Cancel my Membership”.
After clicking on “End my Benefits” I come to this screen (below) which has bold lettering “Angela, we’re sorry to see you go.” One would assume after all these clicks, I’ve now successfully cancelled my membership… but I look closely- I haven’t. Only if I scroll down do I finally see “Cancel your Prime Membership.”
This is clearly not a simple cancellation process and according to NCC and FTC this “process” infringes on a consumer’s right against being charged for products sold through online negative options.
One of the more interesting and scandalous aspects of the NCC report and the FTC lawsuit is the claim that Amazon used “dark patterns.” According to a March 14th 2022 article on Protocol, “Amazon is using a design tactic known as ‘dark patterns’, which manipulates customers into signing up for things they may not want, through misleading and vague offers.”
According to leaked data, these “dark patterns”, were code-named “Project Iliad” by those in the ‘know’ at Amazon.
Even heard of a “Trojan Horse?” It’s an expression that refers to a person or thing working to secretly to undermine or bring about the downfall of an enemy or opponent. “Iliad” is the title of an epically complex poem by Homer which examines the Trojan War and in particular how deceptive, misdirecting and manipulative methods were used in that battle.
Either it’s a huge Freudian-slip, or Amazon knew exactly what it was doing when it chose its ironic code-name.
If the lawsuit wins and the claims are proven to be true, it will be clear that Amazon was grabbing at its consumers with one hand, while simultaneously patting themselves on the back for their cleverness with the other hand.
The FTC is not entertaining that code name was a “play-on-words coincidence.” The lawsuit definitively states, “Amazon designed the Iliad cancellation process (“Iliad Flow”) to be labyrinthine, and Amazon and its leadership—including Lindsay, Grandinetti, and Ghani—slowed or rejected user experience changes that would have made Iliad simpler for consumers because those changes adversely affected Amazon’s bottom line.”
And it seems these sneaky practices have worked. After the Project Iliad’s launch in 2017, the amount of Prime cancellations dropped by 14%, according to The Passive Voice. According to a Consumer Intelligence Research Partners survey, Prime members buy an average of $1,400 in products from Amazon each year, regular, non-Prime customers, only spend around $600 a year.
It’s unclear how much total revenue Amazon has raked in from this misleading practice, but with the mounting damming evidence, on going investigations, leaked data, and upcoming litigation, it certainly looks like they are going to need it.
An avid book reader and proud library card holder, Angela is new to the world of e-Readers. She has a background in education, emergency response, fitness, loves to be in nature, travelling and exploring. With an honours science degree in anthropology, Angela also studied writing after graduation. She has contributed work to The London Free Press, The Gazette, The Londoner, Best Version Media, Lifeliner, and Citymedia.ca.