business news in context, analysis with attitude

Business Insider reports that "the Federal Trade Commission has deepened an investigation into Amazon's Prime subscription service and whether the e-commerce giant intentionally dupes consumers into signing up for the membership program.

"The probe focuses on Amazon's use of ambiguous language and design in its Prime sign-up and cancellation process, commonly known as 'dark patterns.'  Internal documents reported by Insider in March showed that Amazon has for years worried about customers feeling tricked into signing up for Prime, and yet the company chose not to use clearer language because it didn't want to slow the growth of its subscription business."

According to the story, "As part of the investigation, the FTC has been recently reaching out to current and former Amazon employees, and has sent out subpoena letters in some cases, according to people familiar with the matter. These people asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the probe … Typically, the FTC would proceed to file a lawsuit against Amazon in a case like this, according to the people familiar with the matter. The agency could later drop the case or reach a settlement depending on the evidence it gathers. Amazon could also slow down the process by filing a petition with the FTC to quash the subpoena requests."

KC's View:

I'm neither a lawyer nor an FTC investigator, but I must admit I am having trouble with the idea of people being "duped" into signing up for Prime.  best I can tell, it all seems pretty transparent to me - this is what you pay, and this is what you get.  For the most part, I've been pretty happy with the exchange of dollars for services … but maybe there is a cadre of people out there being tricked into signing up for something they don't want or need.

But they're going to have to do some convincing.

Seems to me that there are a lot of other things that Amazon could be vulnerable about if the FTC wants toi play hardball.  I would not have thought this would be one of them.