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Amazon manipulates customers to stay subscribed

14. januar, 2021

Amazon puts obstacles in the way of consumers who wish to unsubscribe from its Amazon Prime service. Today the Norwegian Consumer Council filed a legal complaint against the company for breaches of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.

In the process of unsubscribing from Amazon Prime, the company manipulates consumers to continue using the service in what seems like a deliberate attempt to confuse and frustrate customers.

The Norwegian Consumer Council`s legal complaint to the Consumer Protection Authority highlights what we believe to be Amazon´s unfair commercial practices and breaches of marketing law.

– It should be as easy to end a subscription as it was to subscribe in the first place. Amazon should facilitate a good user experience instead of hindering customers and tricking them into continuing paid services they do not need or want, said Director of Digital Policy at the Norwegian Consumer Council, Finn Lützow-Holm Myrstad.

– In our view, this practice not only betrays the expectations and trust of consumers but breaches European law.

One out of four consumers struggle to unsubscribe

The Norwegian Consumer Council surveyed 1,000 Norwegian consumers and analysed their experience. One out of four Norwegian consumers reported difficulties unsubscribing from digital content services. Twenty-five percent of consumers surveyed reported that they pay for one or more subscriptions that they use with such infrequency that they might as well end the subscription.

– Most of us use digital content services to watch movies, listen to music or audiobooks, play video games, or read the news. At the same time, many consumers experience issues with subscriptions being very easy to sign up for, but difficult to get out of, said Finn Myrstad.

– Companies such as Amazon seem to speculate that they can discourage customers from cancelling their subscriptions either by heavily emphasizing the benefits that will be lost upon cancellation or by making the process so complicated that its users simply give up.

Amazon manipulates users into staying by using dark patterns

The Norwegian Consumer Council’s study analysed the cancellation process for Amazon Prime. The analysis shows that consumers who want to leave the service are faced with a large number of hurdles, including complicated navigation menus, skewed wording, confusing choices, and repeated nudging. Throughout the process, Amazon manipulates users through wording and graphic design, making the process needlessly difficult and frustrating to understand.

– Unfortunately, using dark patterns, or manipulative design, is a common practice online. Consumers are constantly bombarded by a variety of subtle and less subtle attempts to push us into making choices that favour the companies at the cost of our own time, attention, and money, said Myrstad.

A global problem requires global solutions

16 different consumer organizations in Europe and the United States are now taking action against Amazon based on the report by the Norwegian Consumer Council. They will each ask their respective consumer authorities to investigate the use of dark patterns in their countries.

This international campaign builds upon the Norwegian Consumer Council’s joint 2018 campaign with seven other European consumer organizations against Google’s use of dark patterns. The complaint, which the Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s office is still investigating, uncovered how Google manipulates users into turning on comprehensive location tracking.

– The Consumer Protection Authority can set an important precedent by issuing a decision against Amazon. A decision in favour of the complaint would mark that the use of dark patterns is not in accordance with European law and would elevate the rights of consumers.

Report: You can log out but you can never leave
Bilde av ansatt: Finn Myrstad.Foto

Finn Myrstad


Bilde av ansatt: Øyvind Herseth Kaldestad.Foto

Øyvind H. Kaldestad

Kommunikasjonsrådgiver – digitale rettigheter og strøm

About Amazon Prime and Dark Patterns

Amazon Prime

A subscription to Amazon Prime provides discounts, shipping benefits, and access to other Amazon services. The Amazon Prime service has more than 150 million subscribers worldwide. Amazon’s European headquarters is in Luxembourg.

Dark patterns

Dark patterns, or manipulative design, are features of user interface design that nudge or push consumers into making choices that are in the best interest of the service provider, rather than in the interest of the consumer. This may include that certain options are easier to choose than others, that consumers are tricked into giving consent to sharing personal data, and many other practices.

Se more about The Consumer Council’s work on dark patterns and cunning design.

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