Amazon CEO Andy Jassy (left) and Amazon executive chairman Jeff Bezos (right).
Mike Blake/Reuters; Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
- The FTC wants Amazon to fork over any disappearing messages that executives used to discuss Prime.
- The federal agency has been probing Amazon over potentially misleading tactics used to get people to subscribe.
- Insider reported in March that Amazon execs were worried customers felt tricked into signing up but did nothing.
The Federal Trade Commission wants Amazon to find executives that use disappearing messaging apps to talk about things like Prime program enrollment and cancellation processes.
As first reported by Insider’s Eugene Kim, the agency is seeking to find out if Amazon uses misleading tactics to get customers signed up — and remain subscribed to — its pinwheel of membership services, including Prime, Audible, Amazon Music, and other programs.
The FTC wants Amazon to create a log of those disappearing, or “ephemeral,” messages from executives. It also wants the company to identify the number of shoppers who became “nonconsensual enrollees” and “diverted cancels” across various services.
The agency is trying to identify if Amazon specifically used so-called dark patterns, tech-speak for deceptive designs intended to trick consumers into doing things.
Insider’s Eugene Kim reported in March that Amazon execs and employees had long been concerned that customers were feeling tricked into signing up for Prime, which can cost $139 a year or $14.99 a month. However, they chose not to use clearer language around sign-ups because they didn’t want to company’s subscription business to slow down.
Amazon disclosed the FTC’s order in a recent filing petitioning the agency to limit subpoenas sent to employees as part of its probe into Prime and other aspects of the company’s business. The FTC first launched its Prime probe in March 2021, per the filing.
Amazon is alleging that the FTC is making unreasonable demands and that its actions “harass Amazon’s highest-ranking executives” like founder Jeff Bezos and CEO Andy Jassy, both of whom were subpoenaed as part of the probe.
Amazon is not a fan of the leader of the FTC, Lina Khan. She’s a longtime vocal big tech critic, specifically of Amazon — she grew to prominence in part due to a 2017 paper titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” detailing how the company evaded scrutiny.
Amazon says that represents a conflict of interest, and it wrote a 25-page request to the FTC in June 2021 calling for Khan to be removed from any enforcement decision involving the company.
“Given her long track record of detailed pronouncements about Amazon, and her repeated proclamations that Amazon has violated the antitrust laws, a reasonable observer would conclude that she no longer can consider the company’s antitrust defenses with an open mind,” Amazon said in the filing, which the company shared with Insider at the time.
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