The Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon on Wednesday, accusing it of illegally inducing consumers to sign up for its Prime service and then hindering them from canceling the subscription, in the most aggressive action against the company to date by the agency’s chair, Lina Khan.
In its lawsuit, the F.T.C. argued that Amazon had “duped millions of consumers” into enrolling in Prime by using “manipulative, coercive or deceptive” design tactics on its website known as “dark patterns.” And when consumers wanted to cancel, Amazon “knowingly complicated” the process with byzantine procedures.
“Amazon tricked and trapped people into recurring subscriptions without their consent, not only frustrating users but also costing them significant money,” Ms. Khan said in a statement.
Amazon said in a statement that the F.T.C.’s “claims are false on the facts and the law” and that “by design we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership.” The company accused the F.T.C. of filing the lawsuit without advance notice, while the two sides were still in conversation about the case.