Amazon said it rejected claims that the cancellation process created uncertainty.
“We make it easy for customers to leave whenever they choose to,” the company said in a statement Thursday, adding that there were several ways to cancel online or with a phone call. Information provided during the cancellation process “gives a full view of the benefits and services members are canceling,” the company said.
Consumer rights advocates said that the technique employed by Amazon exemplifies the “dark patterns” used on websites and apps to encourage people to do things they would not otherwise do. Tech companies like Amazon, they said, held immense sway over consumers.
The techniques can include tacking travel insurance onto flights, encouraging people to accept a legal agreement or signing up for marketing emails, said Harry Brignull, an expert in deceptive online practices who coined the term “dark patterns” in 2010. Once designed, the techniques can easily be deployed for all users, he said.
A recent survey of 1,000 people conducted by the Norwegian Consumer Council found that one in four reported difficulties unsubscribing from digital content services.
Techniques used to keep users signed up to Amazon Prime included complicated navigation panels and skewed wording that framed membership cancellations as negative, said Mr. Myrstad of the Norwegian consumer group. “They’re used to evoke emotions in you. People are afraid of losing something. They play on your fears.”
Though he called the tactics manipulative, Mr. Brignull said it was unclear whether they were illegal. The new California Privacy Rights Act, for example, specifies that an “agreement obtained through use of dark patterns does not constitute consent,” but it’s unclear how that might applied.
The effort by the consumer groups comes as tech companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple are grappling with a barrage of criticism and lawsuits.