On-line subscription policies claimed to manipulate consumers

The Norwegian Consumer Council claims that digital cancelling policies can manipulate customers to stay subscribed.

The Norwegian Consumer Council filed this week a complaint against a premium subscription service for alleged breaches of the Marketing Control Act, specifically for manipulating customers to stay subscribed to Amazon’s Prime service.

The Norwegian Consumer Council’s has been engaged in work on dark patterns, such as manipulative design, and claims that Amazon is manipulating consumers to continue using the service in what seems like a deliberate attempt to confuse and frustrate customers.

In the Consumer Council’s press release, it is claimed that companies such as Amazon speculates in discouraging costumers from cancelling their subscriptions either by heavily emphasizing the benefits that will be lost upon cancelling or by making the process so complicated that its users simply give up. So far, Amazon has not been heard and presented their counterarguments so far.

Subscription traps?

The Consumer Council has surveyed how thousand consumers experience their subscriptions, and 25% of these reported difficulties when unsubscribing from the digital content services.  Following this survey, the cancellation policies of Amazon Prime was analysed by the Consumer Council particularly. The Consumer Council then found that consumers who wanted to leave the service was faced with a large number of hurdles, including complicated navigation menus, skewed wording, confusing choices, and repeated nudging. Throughout the process, they also found that Amazon manipulates users through wording and graphic design, making the process needlessly difficult and frustrating to understand.

A decision with potential precedent

The Consumer Council claims that the current practice applied by Amazon is unlawful pursuant to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, which is incorporated into the Norwegian Marketing Control Act. They emphasise that the policy should include clear information on how to un-subscribe. As is, the policy is claimed to confuse consumers and create uncertainties, specifically in whether the consumer are in the process of un-subscription or not.

Noting the severe allegations served, it must be expected that the Consumer Authority will desire to draw up the legal boundaries for manipulative practices in subscription policies. The attention the matter has gained abroad indicates that this case will not be of just national interest.

The complaint can be found (in Norwegian) here.

The report done by the Norwegian Consumer Council can be found here.