A lawsuit filed on Wednesday in Amazon’s home district of Seattle, Wash. has accused the company of making it overly complicated to unsubscribe to its premium Amazon Prime feature. The Western District of Washington filing says consumers have been harmed by Amazon’s tricks, causing them to pay more subscription fees than they intended.
The complaint cites “dark patterns,” a term first coined by cognitive scientist Harry Brignull that refers to the field of user experience. According to the filing, Amazon employs dark patterns to hinder Amazon Prime members from ending their Prime subscriptions. Allegedly, both European authorities and the Federal Trade Commission have investigated these alleged practices, with the former forcing Amazon to make certain changes.
The complaint contends that Amazon employs “misdirection,” and “‘confirm-shaming,’ where the option to decline is worded in such a way as to shame the user into compliance.” It further describes Prime membership more generally as the “roach motel” dark pattern, “where you get into a situation very easily, but then you find it is hard to get out of it.”
The filing claims that Amazon knows how to simplify the process and has done so in Europe, but does not want to give up its deceptive but profit-driving practices in America. The suit seeks to certify a class of domestic Amazon Prime enrollees who attempted on or after Nov. 9, 2018, to cancel their Prime membership online by clicking at least two pages in the cancellation process and who incurred an unreimbursed membership fee after failing to cancel their membership for that period.
The class action states one claim for relief under Washington’s consumer protection law and seeks injunctive relief and damages. The plaintiff and putative class are represented by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP.
Amazon has also been sued over Prime in connection with the end of its free Whole Foods Market delivery benefit. In that consolidated case, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint late last month.