Amazon accused of purposely confusing wantaway Prime subscribers

Amazon is facing mounting allegations of consumer manipulation over its Prime service.

Amazon Prime, which offers a range of benefits to users including expedited delivery on goods and access to Amazon’s video streaming platform, has been accused of “dark patterns” to trap subscribers by watchdogs in the US and Europe.

In Norway, the country’s Consumer Council (NCC) has filed a legal complaint with the consumer protection authority over claims that the Amazon website – which requires users to scroll through six pages and make complex choices to cancel a subscription – breaches EU law.

In a damning report entitled You Can Log Out, But You Can Never Leave, the body says that “Amazon makes it unreasonably cumbersome to unsubscribe from the Amazon Prime service,” and that “the sum of these practices is a process that seems designed to be obscure and manipulative, in order to keep consumers bound to the paid service.”

It goes on to show how Amazon uses ‘dark patterns’ which “may attempt to exploit certain cognitive biases to influence and manipulate consumer choices.”

It also alleges that the company attempts to confuse its wantaway customers through language: “Amazon changes around the name of the button that takes the user through the process. ‘End Membership’ becomes ‘Cancel My Benefits’, which becomes ‘Continue to Cancel’, which becomes ‘End Now’. Meanwhile, the ‘Keep My Benefits’ button remains static, although this button somewhat obscures that ‘keep my benefits’ in fact means ‘stop the cancellation process’.”

The Seattle-based giant is also facing pressure in the US – though no legal action yet. Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog in the country, is leading a coalition of groups that is filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Amazon has refuted any allegations that it makes unsubscribing difficult, issuing a statement that said the company: “makes it clear and easy for Prime members to cancel their subscription at any time, whether through a few clicks online, a quick phone call or by turning off auto renew in their membership options”.

This is not the first time that Amazon has faced allegations of dark pattern practices. A 2019 ruling from the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority said that Amazon’s page layouts were purposefully misleading and that users could sign up for the £79 per year subscription by accident.

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