CCPA issues Notices to Amazon Alleging use of Dark Patterns to Deceive Consumers

Gaurav Bhalla

December 19, 2023

CCPA issues Notices to Amazon Alleging use of Dark Patterns to Deceive Consumers

CCPA Sends Notices to Amazon Accusing Utilization of Dark Patterns to Mislead Consumers

It has been reported that the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) has issued notices to Amazon alleging use of dark patterns to deceive consumers into subscribing the Amazon prime membership.

The issuance of these notices seems to be the first action taken by the CPPA as regards usage of dark patterns by online platforms. The CCPA has recently issued guidelines to tackle the issue of usage of ‘dark patterns’ by online platforms. As per the guidelines, ‘dark patterns’ shall mean “any practices or deceptive design patterns using UI/UX (user interface/user experience) interactions on any platform; designed to mislead or trick users to do something they originally did not intend or want to do; by subverting or impairing the consumer autonomy, decision making or choice; amounting to misleading advertisement or unfair trade practice or violation of consumer rights”.

One of the notices issued to Amazon alleges that it used manipulative, coercive, or deceptive user-interface designs to trick consumers into automatically renewing Prime subscriptions. Amongst the various dark patterns listed in the guidelines by the CCPA, one that would be relevant to Amazon renewal of Prime subscriptions would be that of ‘subscription trap’. As per the guidelines, this dark pattern involves:

  • rendering the cancellation of a paid subscription either impossible or a complex and time-consuming process; or
  • concealing the option to cancel a subscription; or
  • coercing users into providing payment details or authorizing automatic debits to access a supposedly free subscription; or
  • creating unclear, hidden, confusing or cumbersome instructions related to cancelling a subscription.

It has also been reported that an official made a statement that - “While subscribing to Amazon is an easy process, subscribing out of it is either impossible or extremely difficult, making it a type of unfair trade practice, bringing it under the purview of consumer affairs”. He also stated that – “While subscription gets added automatically or is advertised on the platform in bold letters, one really has to dig in if they want to cancel their subscription. It comes down to the number of steps and the complications in the process. While taking the subscription takes a single-click, cancellation requires at least 8-10”. It remains to be seen whether the issuance of these notices will result in changes on Amazon’s platform (and potentially have a ripple effect on other e-commerce platforms as well).

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