I doubt this will be the Achilles heel for Amazon's dark business practices, but perhaps this is just the opening chapters of this tragedy.
The Federal Trade Commission today filed a lawsuit against Amazon for what it describes as a "years-long effort to enroll consumers into its Prime program without their consent while knowingly making it difficult for consumers to cancel their subscriptions." In a highly redacted complaint [PDF] filed today in the Western US …
The horse and...
Ulysses' "odyssey" - the journey home to Ithaca was a doddle by comparison - unlike Prime prisoners, while he went to hell, he did come back.
Remember the fate of the suitors (and the maids.).
Penny: "Wait until my hubby comes home - he will be furious. You cannot hide under our bed." ;)
Someone is going to get a lousy performance review for making the process too complicated.
[I got caught out be a 'click the other button to prevent not cancelling subscribing to prime'. Attempting to cancel crashed the browser at the same place on two tries. Good thing there is a choice of browser.]
I got out of Prime by cancelling the associated Credit Card, so they suspended my membership due to "Financial Irregularities". I had previously jumped through all their hoops to cancel, but they still took the £8.99 per month anyway. I complained, and they said that they'd sort it out, but _still_ took the money the next month, A visit to my bank eventually was the only way to stop the payments, and Amazon retaliated by cancelling my account. Their loss, not mine.
This is Yet Another reason to use virtual cards for online shopping. When each merchant has a dedicated card, canceling one is basically zero cost to you.
(I use privacy.com, but no doubt there are other providers. They block a few merchants, such as the gift-giving site my UK colleagues use for people's leaving gifts, but it works with most.)
ln addition to the heroic amount of effort it takes to cancel in the first place, much like the account cancellation process that is worthy of Brazill(the movie, not the country, they suffer enough), there is the issue that Prime would re-activate itself whenever you interacted with their services. Cancel Amazon music and open the app? Amazon assumes you want to re-activate your subscriptions to both. Email them repeatedly that you didn't want your prime renewed? Don't worry they will send you a simple 7 step set of instructions to get a credit back, but only for one month, when they billed you for a year.
Blocked auto-renew? They inferred that you just wanted to experience the "JOY" of clicking the renewal button, so they will bombard you with offers, including ones where it comes pre-selected as an add on whenever you buy a usb cable or a towel rack that will take 30 days to ship from china.
This is one time I will actually try to file an Amicus Brief to make sure the courts hear of all the F*kery they have inflicted over the last few years. The first time they tried this I cut them off for a year and a day. After a year in the penalty box it took less than a week before they tried to screw me over again. They are now the vendor of last resort, and are losing thousands of dollars a year in both private and business sales because they insist on being duplicitous asshats.
This was always going to end in a class action lawsuit. I will be happy if the long sleeping antitrust regulators break them up.
I wonder if I see a different UI (connecting to amazon.de). The last couple of times I have signed up for a free 3-months Prime trial, I have found it really quite straightforward to cancel my Prime membership.
I also like the fact that I can sign up, place the order, and then cancel it - but it still lasts until my three months is up.
Indeed. As I said recently, multiple time I've signed up for Prime deliberately and used the 30 days, cancelling without any great difficulty; and I plan on doing so later this year, when they make available all the episodes I want to binge watch.
Ok, cancelling means going into the "My account" which is harder than joining - returning a product is about as difficult (i.e. not very, if you read what is actually on the screen), just as buying the product was easier than returning it. Not really a surprise.
Ok, I have hit the wrong button (the big one rather than the link beside it that plainly days "no, I don't want the magical experience" (or something like that) but it has always been possible to catch that before completing checkout.
Amazon certainly promote the heck out of Prime, with big happy buttons and banner ads, but then so does everyone who offers a subscription. But if you read what is presented to you, including what the checkout says (has the p&p just vanished?) then you can escape unscathed. If not, you have 30 days to cancel.
Weirdly, SWMBO has come to me, worried that she had signed up to Prime, and I've had to point out that, no, she hadn't!
BTW this is for the UK website - Amazon apps may be totally different.
Yep, the EU and UK have a very easy way of unsubscribing, probably due to the fact we are commie capitalist-hating socialists, or something!
(For US readers - we just go to "accounts" -> "cancel prime" (in big letters) and can do it immediately after "signing up" for the free trial, and still get the full trial length anyway. Also, no terms/conditions etc. to read)
Hopefully the FTC ruling will force them to give you guys similar.
Can confirm that for us West Pondians, this is not the same UI. There is no 'cancel prime' under accounts. Nothing with the word cancel in it at all.
If you click on the actual full accounts page (i.e. click on the menu heading instead of one of the menu items) The word cancel appears only next to order, as in 'cancel order.'
The only relevant link on that page is 'manage your prime membership"
If you click on that link, it will just tell you all about the benefits you get as a Prime member. Nowhere on THAT page is there a cancel link, anywhere. Just scroll and scroll and scroll past all the propaganda about how much prime members get.
If you manage somehow to find your way to "Your Memberships & Subscriptions" it lists Prime along with potentially Audible and Kindle unlimited. Audible has a 'change memebership' button, but Prime and KU just have a 'Settings' button.
The Prime one just takes you back to that propaganda page mentioned earlier with no 'cancel anywhere in sight.' The Audible one does take you to a page that contains a cancel button, but not until you find a small blue 'cancel membership' link that THEN makes you scroll through about three screens worth of 'Need to pause your membership? Take a break and keep listening' with a waring of how you'll lose the credit you already purchased but haven't spent yet. I didn't go farther than that because I want to find a way to spend that credit before I cancel, but I don't have time right now. Dark Pattern goal achieved.
Get the picture?
The FTC is completely right about this, and Amazon is giving a different experience depending on which side of the pond you are on, apparently.
Can confirm. Not only do have access to both sites (and have lived in both countries), I used to work for Amazon.
The UI is explicitly intended to make it difficult to cancel "on a whim", ideally forcing you abandon the attempt, but at best to talk to a CSR. The CSR is obliged to point out the benefits you will be losing, but will help you cancel if you still want to. If they can work out how, themselves. Seriously; it gets iterated regularly (or did) and even internal guides were outdated, with CSRs passing tips to each other on how you actually can get it cancelled for a customer, and what needed to be done backend to get the customer any money for months they never intended to be subscribed in the first place (which Amazon senior management then pushed back on, restricting who had authority and even access to the system needed),
I wish the FTC all the best and will be smiling all the way.
Anon for obvious reasons.
"I wonder if I see a different UI (connecting to amazon.de)."
Yes, that's the point of the article. Amazon CAN make cancelling easier, but unless forced, will not do so, and as the article states, were forced to do so across the EU. The US FTC is now using the same arguments and Amazon are claiming they are not in breach of US law, although have, of course, changed things very recently after years of allegedly breaking the law to try to just nudge themselves across the line onto the legal side which kind of implies the know there were in the wrong and have taken steps under open threat of action.
I have been banging on about Amazon Prime for years.
The involuntary lock-in, the convoluted escape process and the danger that the next time you want to get anything from this bunch of cowboys you run the risk of getting sucked in again.
It took me days, 'phoning, arguing, trying to understand an agent for whom English was not her first language to prise myself from Amazon's clammy grasp.
In the end, although I made it clear that a flag should be put on my account indicating that I should never be enrolled in Prime, I decided to refuse to do business with such a shady bunch of chancers.
The spider can't catch you if you do not walk into their web.
For most things. There are a few things which I've had difficulty finding elsewhere. Even if I find a manufacturer site, it just rolls over to Amazon for purchasing.
But I've been avoiding Amazon as much as I feasibly can (and I prefer to buy locally anyway where possible). And I've never signed up for Prime. Yes, I recognize the "sign and cancel immediately" wheeze, but I don't want to give them the satisfaction.
Another thing I hate about Amazon: They'll rarely say how something will be shipped. We don't have USPS delivery to our home, and package services can't deliver to the Post Office, so I have to guess which address to provide. Often enough it's the wrong one and the item gets returned.
The UK judgement appears to have achieved nothing. For the past few months I've had to scroll back up the order form to confirm that I really don't want Prime after I select the free delivery option.
It's a shit UI and someone at Amazon should be ashamed.
I don't want their free TV and music and I don't give a toss when items actually arrive. I just want to pay the lowest cost possible and I actually enjoy the randomness of free delivery.
Fuck off and stop trying to get me to subscribe to Prime or I'll go elsewhere,
Yeah, they make it hard NOT to join, but it's easy to cancel.
In fact, join for the free trial, then cancel straight away. Not only will you have the free next day delivery and prime for 30 days, you'll also stop getting nagged to join prime until the offer exists again, then, rinse, and repeat!
That's been my experience, too: Got signed up by 'default', saw what they'd done, cancelled, and got reminder after reminder to resub. It's happened several times, too - they make it very difficult to say 'no', and they don't even try to remember that decision the next time you go to buy something from them.
So it very much does appear that Amazon use deceptive practices to get people on to Prime, and to keep them there, but not always by making it hard to unsubscribe: Sometimes it's simply pester power (make it easier to just maintain the subscription to avoid the nuisance messages/efforts from Amazon).
Currently I am subscribed, but there are some things that come with the subscription I am making use of. As/when that changes... will cancel and see what they try in order to get me to resubscribe - am expecting to find them sign me up for a free trial or make it near impossible to avoid doing so.
Am also looking for a decent alternative - hopefully one where I'm not seeing hundreds of sellers offering the same item (made cheap in China) but claiming that somehow they're different to what the others are selling (identical even down to the pictures, with perhaps some being branded to not quite be the same)
"Free delivery" == "Prime"
This is exactly the misleading tactic that the FTC is criticising. I've never liked Amazon and have bought very little (probably less than 10 items, mainly Mamil stuff) from it over the years. Now, whenever I want something from it that I can't get elsewhere, I just ask a friend with Prime to order it for me.
As with all forms of advertising the feedback is only one way, the way that confirms what marketing wish to be the truth. There's no way that they can tell that the reason I recently emptied the basket and left is that their Prime traps were thoroughly pissing me off, nor could they tell that I'd gone elsewhere to make the purchase I abandoned there. If they realised that this could be costing them sales elsewhere they might reconsider.
Right now it needs somebody with a lot more clout that the ASA to discourage them. The CMA perhaps.
"I actually enjoy the randomness of free delivery."
I can think of at least three Amazon warehouses within a short drive of my house, one is less than 10 mins away, one is a massive regional hub, maybe 30-40 mins away. Even without Prime, it's rare for an item to take longer than next day even on the non-Prime free shipping option. My wife usually takes out a Prime free trial every 6 months or so just for the free TV, but personally I hate the Amazon TV interface. It take too long to browse. Search only works if you know what you want to watch. Browsing is utter shit and interspersed between every "included" bit of Prime is other TV stuff you have pay more for, ie additional subscriptions AKA upselling, ie "dark patterns" is in Amazons DNA. They just can't stop.
that uses such tricks. Many web sites make it easy to accept what the web site wants and hard/much-clicking to stop things.
Having said that: Amazon is one of the worst.
A suitable penalty (when found guilty) would be to refund prime membership fees for the last 5 years - all of them since it is not possible to know who wanted it and who got sucked in.
On the other hand when I called Sky to cancel Netflix last year they offered to let me have my package (ie; everything except Netflix) for half price if I just agreed to sign up for another 12 months. I didn't have to ask and there was no hard sell. The lady just removed Netflix then said something like "Oh, you know what? I could reduce your subscription by half if you are happy to sign up for a 12 month contract".
Since I hadn't intended to leave anyway it was a no-brainer :)
Similar experience(s) with Virgin Media. If they get the faintest inkling that you're unhappy with some aspect of their service (or, god forbid, may be thinking of going to a competitor) they tend to roll over and sweeten your deal. Meanwhile, they ratchet prices up steadily - so I have an annual whinge session just to keep prices stable. Their business model seems to depend on people not doing that.
I recently got fed up with that, where I signed up to a 18-month deal for £38/month and then 7 months in they raised it to £44 "because inflation". Initially I did the usual, phoned up and they offered me £36 so I signed up, but then I got pi**ed off so cancelled it and went with Toob. A few days after we'd had Toob installed VM texted me to offer a new deal of £14/month! Though I could have cancelled the new service (within 14 days of signing up) Toob hadn't done anything wrong and VM had wound me up royally so even though it would have saved me money I told them to stick it.
"Too timid. A suitable penalty would be to force them to split Prime off as a separate corporation."
On the face of it, that might sound like a suitable punishment. The reality is that Amazon Shipping and/or Amazon Sales would be tied to Amazon Prime through fees and commissions such that Amazon Shipping would be under huge pressure to push Amazon prime to increase income.
I was impressed (in a bad way) by the Amazon checkout dialogue box that said "Would you like a free trial of Prime?" with big YES and and NO buttons. On the 'NO' button in tiny text it said "NO, I don't want to miss the opportunity to try Prime!" So effectively it was another YES button. I eventually found the real 'no' option, which was even tinier, and lurking in the corner of the screen.
I guess things must have changed a lot because I always remember several years back wanting to cancel a prime subscription that I'd stupidly allowed to go beyond the free trial period - I was all set for the usual helpless battle and being tied in for the next 12 months, but the process couldn't have been simpler and the money was refunded in full within a couple of days.
Because just out of curiosity I started my Amazon Prime app and it took me less than 10 seconds to find the place to click to end my subscription. I didn't click it, so if there's some byzantine sequence after you click that I don't know - but I wasn't willing to risk that it would do exactly what it said without any further confirmation.
In the US, using the iOS version of the app.
Just checked it on the website, also very easy to bring up: go to "your account", then "prime" (in the upper right for me) then in the upper right "manage membership" which has the option to end membership. Basically the same sort of sequence I follow in the app, just a different layout.
Last time I tried it, it took a while to find the right place, but it wasn't inordinately difficult. Certainly not like my ISP which I quite like in general but canceling your service if, for example, you're moving still requires you to call and wait for an hour. I don't know how it has changed, nor geographic limitations, but maybe they're comparing the probably five screens you have to click through to cancel to the twenty different tripwires on multiple pages that can get you in.
That's nice, but people who might want to borrow money later might care about it anyway because the people willing to lend them money will be using that number. Many who can will avoid debt when possible, but may make an exception for something large, like buying a house or starting a business, and would therefore like to minimize the cost when they do.
The point is that, in order to deny money to Amazon, you have to prevent them from automatically charging any payment method. That will effectively require you never to use Amazon again, since buying anything will involve giving them a payment method which they will be able to charge first for the money you agreed to pay but did not. Even if they didn't report this as a credit problem, it isn't really a feasible way to avoid Prime when compared to being careful not to sign up and to cancel if you did.
If you know you will comfortably get through life without ever needing a mortgage, a business loan, a phone contract or making any other similar financial commitment - or at least not being concerned over how much extra you have to pay for these things compared to most other people, then I guess not. However, I would suggest that for the vast majority of people, that isn't the case and therefore your advice is irresponsible at best.
a 'credit rating' is not a thing out of the US (maybe also the UK??).
Nevertheless, if you signed up for a service you are legally liable for the cost, so simply cancelling the card isn't enough. You have to at least show a good-faith attempt to contact them to cancel. Best would be an email stating clearly your account number / identifier, date, and wish to cancel effective immediately or at X date (some subscriptions might have cancellation windows and/or notice periods).
"And if they don't? Free stuff."
Continuing to use a service for "free" after withholding or denying payment is also known as fraud. Just because the supplier hasn't yet blocked you doesn't mean you can carry using it without paying. To keep your advice both legal and moral, maybe you should try re-wording it?
Amazon have been caught out on a regular basis however the fines & sanctions are so pitiful that it is just absorbed as a business cost.
This is the real issue with these huge corporations. They are so large and the revenue so high that any of the current fines are meaningless.
The fines have to be proportional to the global revenues so that the impact is real.
> fines & sanctions are so pitiful
For somebody the size of Amazon (or Google, Microsoft, you name it), those fines are just part of the cost of doing business. And lobbying will prevent that from changing in any meaningful way.
Apparently they don't do enough lobbying in Europe though, probably because there are too many different governments to
pay convince: "A million here, a million there, sooner or later it adds up to real money"...
"The fines have to be proportional to the global revenues so that the impact is real."
This is why dismemberment has to be considered as an alternative. If you abuse one wing of your business to favour another in this way you get ordered to separate the businesses into two separate corporations.
What's really needed is someone to actually do it. Investigations, e.g. Microsoft many years back, prompts changes at the time but in the end they drift back to their old ways.
"They are so large and the revenue so high that any of the current fines are meaningless."
Yes, the "tiny crimes", which many see as not serious. Steal a few pennies from someone and almost no one cares. Steal a few pennies from a billion customers every month and it adds up to real money. But fine them a $million and it means nothing to the $billions they already stole. They just pay the fine and go off and brainstorm the next wheeze.
I signed up for Prime when I reached the point that I was ordering enough that shipping costs would be more than the Prime membership. I didn't care about Prime Music (which I never ended up using) or Prime Video (which I actually did).
I've seen dark patterns before (shout out to Bell Canada here, where Bell reps have actually been unable to find a way to cancel an account, both in store and on the phone), and I always check how to cancel before I sign up for something. I've avoided signing up for some services because I've read the horror stories online about difficulty in cancelling the service.
Generally speaking, if a search of "cancel $SERVICE Canada" brings up nothing but links to horror stories, I avoid it.
I checked the Amazon sign up and cancellation procedures, and at least in Canada, they're clear and pretty straightforward. The link here (at time of writing) goes to the page called "End your Amazon Prime Membership", which has a one-click "End Membership" button, and another link with a two step explanation of how to terminate automated billing.
Maybe the graphics have changed, but the page doesn't look any different than when I first looked for it.
I have no doubt that it could be different, and more difficult, in other countries. But at least in Canada, "too hard to quit" isn't accurate.
In the UK I found it very easy to get rid of Amazon Prime. I simply remove my payment details each time after I make a purchase.
Doing this has two advantages:
1. No payment card on Amazon account record = no payment for Prime (or anything else - fraud?) can be taken
2. No payment card on Amazon account record = when Amazon next have a data breach then my payment card data will be stolen.
Works for me.
You seem to b e assuming that when you remove your payment details that they are deleted instead of just hidden from view. Which do you want to bet?
At the very least, they will hold onto all your order and payment details for a legally defined minimum time so as to be able to deal with returns etc., or potential future legal disputes.