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FTC sues Amazon for using “dark patterns” with Prime

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said that Amazon enrolled users in Prime subscriptions without their permission.

The FTC noted that for users, a casual act of online shopping could lead to unknowingly signing up for paid services — for example, Amazon Prime.

“The FTC filed a lawsuit against Amazon, saying the company violated the law by enrolling people in its Amazon Prime subscription service without their permission, continuing to charge them, and making it hard to cancel,” the agency said.

According to the FTC, Amazon employed so-called dark patterns to lead users into subscribing to a service they might not have wanted to purchase.

The purpose of dark patterns is to “trick” consumers into making choices that may not be in their best interests, and exploit their vulnerabilities.

The technique may involve designing an ecommerce website with hidden costs, confusing elements to lead buyers towards a specific choice, or forced continuity where a free trial is difficult to unsubscribe, leading users to pay for an unwanted service.

“These dark patterns also made it hard for people to cancel their Prime subscriptions by making them hunt for the right place to cancel online and then click through complicated extra pages to cancel,” the FTC said.

Amazon, one of the world’s wealthiest tech companies, led customers that wanted to unsubscribe from a paid service to the company’s call center, which would refer them back to the website, making the process difficult to complete.

To avoid being duped, the FTC advised users to watch what goes into their shopping cart, watch for pre-checked boxes, carefully review an order before completing a transaction, look for auto-renewal clauses, and check that an eshop didn’t charge for something it wasn’t supposed to.

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