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What the FTC Misses With Amazon Lawsuit

Photo: Photo by Getty.

In its war on big tech, the Federal Trade Commission has opened a new front. In a lawsuit filed against Amazon today, the FTC accused the e-commerce giant of duping millions of consumers into “unknowingly” enrolling in its Amazon Prime service and then making it really difficult for them to cancel. So this is what Amazon founder Jeff Bezos meant when he promised once to “focus relentlessly on our customers”! Still, as unflattering as the lawsuit’s details are, they’re hardly surprising (or news). After all, the FTC could surely have made the same discovery about many other subscription services, particularly in cable TV. 

Critics of Amazon will see the lawsuit as damning for its allegations that some Amazon staffers wanted the company to change its ways to avoid “tricking its customers,” but Amazon’s leadership resisted to protect the company’s bottom line. Whatever evidence the FTC has about that internal debate is blacked out, however, in a complaint with so many redactions you could be forgiven for thinking it’s one of those classified documents found in Donald Trump’s bathroom. What we’re left with are details like the “four-page, six-click, fifteen-option” Prime cancellation process, as the FTC described it. According to the FTC, that’s how the process worked at least until the company simplified things, under pressure from the regulator. Requiring customers to jump through numerous hoops to cancel doesn’t reflect the kind of customer-centric philosophy Amazon pretends to have. But then, anyone who believed Amazon put customers first should have come to their senses a while back, when it started jamming ads into its search results.

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From left: Paul Graham, Garry Tan and Michael Seibel. Photos by Getty. Art by Mike Sullivan.
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