FTC Complaint: Ending an Amazon Prime Membership Is a Deceptive, Unlawful Ordeal

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ending an Amazon Prime membership is an ordeal that may constitute unfair and deceptive practices under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, seven groups led by Public Citizen said today in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The groups are calling on the agency to investigate Amazon Prime’s practices and take appropriate enforcement action against the trillion-dollar company.

“Amazon Prime’s subscription model is a ‘roach motel,’ where getting in is almost effortless, but escape is an ordeal,” the letter reads. “As a general rule, it should not be more difficult to unsubscribe than to subscribe from a digital service.”

To end an Amazon Prime membership, consumers must click through several pages, where almost every page has multiple links that create confusion about cancellation, and every click nudges consumers back into the subscription through blurring and omitting cancellation information. In addition, Amazon Prime’s cancellation process repeatedly attempts to dissuade consumers who attempt to end their membership and divert them from doing so. 

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The complaint follows a new report from the Norwegian Consumer Council documenting 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. The groups behind the FTC complaint also sent a letter to Congress flagging their concerns.

“With more than 120 million Prime members in the U.S. alone, Amazon doesn’t need to subvert, confuse, and misdirect consumers who want to cancel their Prime membership. Americans from all walks of life are counting on online platforms like Amazon to serve basic daily needs during the pandemic. Amazon should treat customers with respect instead of trying to undermine their autonomy and fight their decisions.” Burcu Kilic, director of Public Citizen’s digital rights program.

“Congress and the FTC need to look at the many ways that firms in the digital marketplace, both BigTech and small, keep their customers in the dark about how to protect their data from being shared widely and how to cancel their membership. They want to keep the data flowing and keep your money flowing, too.” Ed Mierzwinski, senior director, Federal Consumer Program, U.S. PIRG

“It’s okay for a company to ask consumers to confirm that they want to cancel its service, but it’s not acceptable to deliberately throw multiple roadblocks in the way, as this study shows Amazon doing. It’s especially concerning when consumers are trying to cancel free trail offers, because they’ll end up being charged for a service they don’t want if they don’t get out in time.” Susan Grant, director of consumer protection, Consumer Federation of America

“Consumers are faced with manipulative design features wherever they go online. These features exert hidden influences and are targeted to exploit users’ vulnerabilities. They are meant to advance the interests of corporations, not consumers. It is high time that the FTC systematically examines these manipulative design features and prohibits their abuses.” Katharina Kopp, director of policy, Center for Digital Democracy