FTC Seeks To Block IAB From Weighing In On 'Dark Patterns' Battle

The Federal Trade Commission is asking a federal judge to reject efforts by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and other outside groups to weigh in on Amazon's side in a dispute over its alleged use of “dark patterns.”

The Interactive Advertising Bureau last month argued in a proposed friend-of-the-court brief that the FTC's allegations against Amazon amounted to an attempt “to regulate and punish truthful statements made in advertising.”

The FTC says in papers filed Monday with U.S. District Court Judge John Chun in Seattle that the IAB and other outside groups repeat Amazon's arguments, mischaracterize the FTC's complaint, and are “generally unhelpful” to resolving the legal issues. The agency is asking Chun to deny the groups' motions to file the proposed briefs.

The IAB's filing came in a lawsuit brought in June by the FTC. The agency accused Amazon of charging users without their consent, and violating a federal law that requires companies to disclose all subscription terms in advance, and offer simple cancellation mechanisms.



The complaint specifically alleged that Amazon used “manipulative, coercive, or deceptive user-interface designs known as 'dark patterns' to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically-renewing” subscriptions to the $15-a-month Prime service.

The IAB argued in its proposed brief that many of the allegations concerned common marketing practices.

“The FTC’s 'dark patterns' are described ominously in its complaint, but in substance they largely include a handful of benign, ordinary statements made in the course of Amazon marketing the benefits of its Prime membership and 'design elements' chosen by Amazon, such as the use of color to draw a consumer’s attention, to communicate Amazon’s message that Prime is valuable,” the organization contended.

The FTC asks Chun to reject that brief, writing: “IAB tries to position itself as an expert on user interface design. But IAB is not presenting an expert report; rather, it is a trade association.”

The agency also asked Chun to reject separate proposed friend-of-the-court briefs filed by other groups, including one submitted by the tech industry groups Computer & Communications Industry Association, NetChoice and Chamber of Progress, and one submitted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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