“Dark Patterns” Making Online Subscriptions Harder to Cancel Draws Lawsuits, Settlements and Government Scrutiny
A lot of legal news has been made recently regarding a growing habit of subscription e-commerce websites and services to use a system known as “dark patterns” to reduce cancellations or expand subscriptions.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched lawsuits, settled with some defendants, and plaintiffs in California and other states are suing to recover alleged money lost after subscriptions continued despite attempts or desire to cancel a service.
What is a Dark Pattern?
“Dark pattern” is a term used to describe a type of user experience design (UX) that makes it harder to cancel an ongoing paid service with an online service provider. The term dates back originally to 2010 and covers multiple techniques including:
- Hidden Cost: Failing to reveal costs until a final confirmation page, such as additional fees that would have been possible to show or calculate earlier in the process.
- “Roach Motel”: Cancelling a service is designed to take many more steps and be more difficult than starting a service. This can include many steps to cancel, cancel notices in plain text hidden within a window, and other techniques to make the process abandoned by some consumers.
- Forced Continuity: Free Trials that convert into paid subscriptions, including for long terms, without any additional action by the consumer except not cancelling in time.
FTC Sues Amazon For Dark Patterns
On June 21st, 2023, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued Amazon.com for “dark pattern” use in Amazon Prime subscription renewals, alleging they created millions of nonconsensual enrollees for the service.
The FTC alleges that Amazon used a “manipulative, coercive or deceptive user interface design known as ‘dark patterns’ to trick consumers”.
The FTC complaint includes allegations the Prime subscription service cancellation process was made so arduous it was internally nicknamed the “Iliad”, the companion epic poem to Homer’s Odyssey. The FTC alleges cancellation included 4 pages, 6 clicks and 15 options for consumers to process, including making the process hard to locate and initiate.
FTC Settles with Publishers Clearing House for $18.5 Million
The FTC announced on June 26, 2023 an $18.5 million settlement with Publishers Clearing House for their use of “dark patterns” to create purchases.
The FTC director of Consumer Protection said:
“Today’s action requiring PCH to overhaul its user interface, compensate consumers for lost time, and stop surprise fees should send a clear message that manipulative design techniques are a no-go under our laws.”
Publishers Clearing House did not admit to any claims, and stated they only settled to avoid the “expense and distraction of litigation”.
Consumer File Lawsuit Against Audible For Dark Patterns
A lawsuit against Audible Inc was filed in March of 2023 regarding Amazon.com company Audible Inc, and allegations of dark patterns converting “free titles” offers into paid subscriptions without consumer intent or knowledge.
Allegations from the complaint:
According to Amazon, its Prime membership confers many shipping, shopping, streaming, reading, and other benefits. Amazon Prime membership costs approximately $119 per year. One of the “benefits” that Amazon touted as included in a Prime membership was “Free Titles at Audible.” Amazon stated: “Prime members are invited to start an Audible Premium Plus trial with 2 credits that can be used on any titles.”
Although there may be multiple ways that Amazon tricked its customers into paying for an unwanted Audible membership, one way was by Amazon providing “credits” as a so-called “benefit” of being a Prime member. When Prime members redeemed those “credits” for an audio version of a book they wished to purchase, they were unknowingly enrolled by Defendants into Audible’s membership services for a monthly fee without any clear and conspicuous notice of such enrollment.
Plaintiffs are seeking a return of “unjustly obtained monies” and restitution for the alleged actions by Audible.
Consumer Rights Attorneys
Schneider Wallace handles cases involving unfair practices against consumers. please contact Schneider Wallace at 1-800-689-0024 or email@example.com.
Schneider Wallace is known for our pursuit of consumers rights through complex litigation and class action lawsuits. To learn more about recovering damages caused by deceptive acts, fraud, or abuse, schedule a consultation with our trial lawyers at our many offices or online. We practice before state and federal courts in jurisdictions throughout the United States in individual claims, class actions and multidistrict litigation.