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Amazon is under fire in a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission over the company’s alleged workflow to trick customers into signing up for a Prime membership. Now, the FTC is amending that June lawsuit with additional information that three company executives were aware of the plan and were reportedly okay with it.
The amended complaint names Amazon’s Neil Lindsay, a senior vice president who oversaw Prime, Russell Grandinetti, senior vice president of international consumer, and Jamil Ghani, VP of Amazon Prime, as executives who were aware of the company’s alleged scheme to use dark patterns to trick customers into Prime enrollments. As The Verge notes the amended lawsuit alleges that Amazon designed an enrollment process for Prime that was easy to trigger and incredibly difficult to cancel. Amazon employees began reportedly pointing out this unfair system to higher-ups as early as 2016, but those complaints fell on deaf ears.
“The FTC’s decision to add three Amazon leaders to its civil case against the company is unwarranted under the facts and the law,” Amazon spokesperson Tim Doyle said in a statement emailed to Gizmodo. “To claim that their efforts were made in anything but the utmost good faith is unfounded and represents a radical departure from the FTC’s own standards for such claims. We’ve always made it clear and simple for customers to sign up for and cancel Prime, and we look forward to demonstrating that the FTC’s claims to the contrary are wrong.”
Related: FTC Wants to End the Hell That Is Trying to Cancel a Free Trial or Subscription
The amended suit now includes internal company messaging about the program, including one newsletter that reads that “the issue of accidental sign-ups is well documented.” Amazon even had a fun nickname for the system to dissuade users from canceling through a complicated system, calling it “Iliad” after the epic by Homer. A newly unredacted portion of the lawsuit claims that Lindsay was confronted about the system by Amazon designers but was “okay” with the situation as customers would see what a great product Prime is.
“In a meeting with Amazon designers, Defendant Lindsay was asked about Amazon’s use of dark patterns during the Prime enrollment process,” the FTC writes. “Lindsay explained that once consumers become Prime members—even unknowingly—they will see what a great program it is and remain members, so Amazon is ‘okay’ with the situation.”
The lawsuit against Amazon was originally filed in June with FTC Chair Lina M. Kahn arguing in a press release that “Amazon tricked and trapped people into recurring subscriptions without their consent.” The FTC argues that Amazon customers were presented with a purchase button that automatically purchased a Prime membership without properly disclosing that to customers. Amazon also reportedly complicated the process of canceling subs in 2017, leading to a 14% drop in cancellations after that according to leaked data seen by Insider. The FTC is apparently making Amazon nervous. On Wednesday, a spokesman for the company told The Verge it would stand down from its plan to charge vendors an extra 2% seller fee.