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Deceptive Patterns in Design: What UI Designers Learn from Amazon Being Sued by the FTC.


floh-creative-deceptive-patterns-in-design-what-ui-designers-learn-from amazon-getting-sued-by-ftc-for-deceptive-design

Picture this: you're happily browsing an online store, casually searching for that perfect item, when suddenly, a pop-up window appears, desperately urging you to sign up for a premium subscription. However, the "No thanks" button is cleverly hidden in minuscule print, while the "Sign me up!" button shines like a radiant sun. Voila! You've just encountered a classic case of deceptive design.


Deceptive Patterns used by UI Designers are Cunning Tactics Employed by Companies to Manipulate Our Thoughts and Actions


In the world of UI, deceptive patterns go way beyond the design thinking of creating simple functionality and skillfully play with our psychology. Deceptive design has the intention of subtly pushing us to do something we never intended, or hindering us from finding what we truly seek. Tricky, right? For sure. And for one simple reason, greed.


Let's delve into a recent confrontation between the e-commerce giant Amazon and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC has filed a lawsuit against Amazon, accusing the company of tricking millions of customers into signing up for its Prime subscription service through deceptive UI (user interface) designs. But the allegations go even further.


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The Case of Amazon Pushing Amazon Prime Membership


Amazon allegedly created a deliberately convoluted and labyrinthine process for canceling subscriptions, intentionally set up by the UI designers to distract and deter customers from abandoning the paid service.


This user flow showcases the multitude of steps required to cancel an Amazon Prime membership. If you manage to navigate through it without getting lost, confused or giving up to try again later, you’re more persistent than most.


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So, Why Does Being Aware of All This Trickery Matter?


First and foremost, it hits us where it hurts the most—our wallets. Unwanted subscriptions lead to our hard-earned money disappearing into thin air. But it's not just about the financial aspect; the emotional toll runs deep.


We feel betrayed, deceived, and start questioning our own judgment and the trust we once placed in these companies. However, this isn't the first time Big Tech companies have faced antitrust issues.



UI Designers: Avoid labyrinthine design in app or online user interfaces. It confuses users and puts business in danger of anti-trust lawsuits. Image © Floh Creative
UI Designers: Avoid labyrinthine design in app or online user interfaces. It confuses users and puts business in danger of anti-trust lawsuits. Image © Floh Creative

Imagine spending an eternity trying to cancel a subscription because the "cancel" button is buried beneath layers of confusion and misleading options. It's infuriating, time-consuming, and incredibly frustrating. That time could have been spent binge-watching our favorite shows or accomplishing something meaningful. But alas, its devoured by navigating the labyrinthine design.


Now, let's consider the consequences for businesses. These deceptive patterns tarnish the reputation of giant corporations and rightly portray them as villains in some cases. When the truth inevitably comes to light, the repercussions are seismic. Legal troubles abound, eroding consumer trust and damaging their reputation like a sandcastle crumbling under relentless waves.


Think About it. If a Company Deceives You Once, Will You Trust Them Again?


Probably not. Customer loyalty plummets, and that's a bitter pill for any business to swallow. Moreover, the consequences extend to their bottom line, as disgruntled customers seek refuge with their competitors and the FTC imposes penalties.


So, How Do We Approach Ethical Design?


The FTC lawsuit against Amazon serves as a call to action. It's a wake-up call, signaling the end of the deceptive pattern era. It sets a powerful precedent for other companies contemplating similar dubious practices.



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FTC Chair Lina Khan, a strong advocate for consumer rights, sheds a radiant spotlight on these nefarious tactics, demanding transparency and ethical design from corporations. By prioritizing ethical interface design, companies can foster trust, transparency, and consumer empowerment.


Similar to the CAN-SPAM Act, which emphasizes clear opt-out options and functioning unsubscribe mechanisms in emails, companies offering paid subscription services must empower users to take control of their choices.

Let's explore the significance of this approach:


1. Clear Opt-Out Options


Every user deserves the freedom to opt out of any service or subscription without hassle. Ethical interface design ensures that companies prominently display clear opt-out options, allowing users to make decisions freely.


Transparent presentation of these choices builds trust and empowers users to have control over their digital experiences.


2. Functioning Unsubscribe Options


Just as we appreciate the ability to unsubscribe effortlessly from email lists, the same should apply to paid services. Companies should make the unsubscribe process straightforward and hassle-free, without burdening users with convoluted steps or hidden barriers.


By enabling users to discontinue subscriptions easily, companies honor their autonomy and respect their decisions.


3. Transparent Communication


Regular communication becomes crucial in the spirit of empathy and transparency. Companies should keep users informed about subscription details, changes, and upcoming renewals.


By proactively sharing information, users are empowered to make well-informed decisions about their continued participation, thereby enhancing trust between companies and consumers.


In conclusion, the recent FTC lawsuit against Amazon serves as a powerful reminder for companies to reevaluate their practices and prioritize consumer empowerment. Let's pave a path where ethical interface design becomes the norm, enabling users to navigate the digital world with confidence and trust.


Creating a digital landscape where users feel empowered, respected, and free from the clutches of deceptive practices is within reach. The journey requires empathy, understanding, and a commitment to putting consumers first.


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Written by Mary Ellen Schrock for Floh Creative.


Mary Ellen is the Chief Disruptor of Floh Creative. A bright, intuitive creative she has a passion for solving complex design and business challenges, and brand storytelling. Mary Ellen’s 20+ years of business strategy and creative problem-solving experience working with Corporate, Fortune 50 and Entertainment giants has created household name and recognizable identities for Coca-Cola, Oprah Winfrey, and Disney. She's been the creative force behind the successful brand launch campaigns for Lotus Cars, Disney - The Lion King Broadway, and Warner Bros. Entertainment.


Floh Creative partners with brands and businesses to build tools and deploy strategies to produce measurable results and grow business.


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