Amazon executives were “okay” with people being secretly signed up for its Amazon Prime membership program, the FTC said in an amended lawsuit on Wednesday (as reported by The Wall Street Journal).
The original lawsuit, filed in June, claimed that Amazon had tricked millions into unwittingly subscribing to Prime through buttons that were presented prominently during checkout. The FTC added new details to back up its claims on Wednesday, including internal messages and the names of three senior Amazon leaders who allegedly “played a key role” in the scheme.
The executives include two of Amazon’s most senior leaders at the time, Neil Lindsay — the senior vice president who oversaw Prime — and Russell Grandinetti, Amazon’s senior vice president of international consumer. The FTC also named Jamil Ghani, an Amazon vice president who oversaw the Prime subscription program.
The amended complaint accuses Amazon of using deceptive tactics to create an enrollment process for Prime that was easy for customers to accidentally trigger. Amazon employees, per the FTC, began expressing concerns to company leadership about these strategies in 2016, but those executives didn’t take action.
For example, Amazon designers once asked Lindsay about the company’s use of dark patterns — elements of Amazon’s user interface that allegedly aim to trick customers into subscribing to Prime. Lindsay, the lawsuit claims, said that Amazon was “okay” with their use. His explanation was that “once consumers become Prime members — even unknowingly — they will see what a great program it is and remain members.”
The amended complaint also includes new internal messages and emails indicating that Amazon and its leaders were aware of their deception. One company newsletter reads, “The issue of accidental Prime-sign ups is well documented” while admitting that Prime customers “sign up accidentally and/or [don’t] see auto-renewal terms.”
Once customers were signed up, the FTC argues, Amazon also created an intentionally complicated cancellation process. The process was codenamed “Iliad,” referring to Homer’s ancient epic poem.
Lindsay, the complaint adds, has internally floated the idea of making the Prime cancellation process as easy as the Prime enrollment process but has stated that he finds the idea “scary.”
Amazon is one of many companies the FTC has gone after in recent years in its efforts to fight the use of dark patterns. Last year, Epic Games paid $520 million after the agency accused it of deceiving players into buying in-game content. Earlier this year, the FTC also proposed an official ban on subscriptions that are easier to buy than they are to cancel.