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I noticed today this announcement that Norton are being taken to court by the UK Competition & Markets Authority, for not co-operating with the CMA's investigation into their practice of auto-renewing customer subscriptions.  See:  https://www.itpro.co.uk/business/business-operations/359000/uk-competition-watchdog-takes-norton-to-court

 

At the CMA page: https://www.gov.uk/cma-cases/anti-virus-software  it says (dated 2019) that says the sorts of things the CMA are trying to find out are

  • whether consumers expressly agree to be automatically renewed
  • if there is express agreement to pay a higher price when auto-renewed and if not whether businesses can charge a higher price
  • whether customers can easily prevent renewal
  • whether they should be entitled to refunds if they no longer want or need the service

 

It also says "We have written to a number of anti-virus firms following concerns that some of their practices...." and "We have also written to 16 other anti-virus companies across the sector asking them to review their practices and terms and conditions to ensure that they are compliant with consumer law and put them on notice that they could also face an investigation if any consumer law concerns are identified."

 

I would like to know if

a) Emsisoft were one of the companies written to

b) if you weren't, were you aware of this investigation?

c) whether you've considered, in the light of this, removing your current non-optional (at the point where someone renews) auto-renewal?  I know it's possible to disable auto-renewal by contacting Sales afterwards, but have always disliked having to do that.

 

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On 3/24/2021 at 3:14 PM, JeremyNicoll said:

if there is express agreement to pay a higher price when auto-renewed and if not whether businesses can charge a higher price

Our price is the same for auto-renewals.

 

On 3/24/2021 at 3:14 PM, JeremyNicoll said:

whether customers can easily prevent renewal

We're supposed to have a way in MyEmsisoft to disable auto-renewal of a subscription.

 

On 3/24/2021 at 3:14 PM, JeremyNicoll said:

whether they should be entitled to refunds if they no longer want or need the service

We offer refunds up to (if I remember right) 90 days after purchase. Our store page says we have a 30-day money back guarantee. If anyone has any questions about our refund policy, they can contact our sales team and they can answer any questions.

 

On 3/24/2021 at 3:14 PM, JeremyNicoll said:

a) Emsisoft were one of the companies written to

I don't know the answer to that, however I will ask for more information.

Please keep in mind that sometimes contact between government authorities and businesses aren't publicly announced or mentioned if the business isn't in violation of any laws, and sometimes that contact is intended to be treated as confidential.

 

On 3/24/2021 at 3:14 PM, JeremyNicoll said:

b) if you weren't, were you aware of this investigation?

I personally wasn't aware of the investigation. I don't yet know if our management was aware of it.

 

On 3/24/2021 at 3:14 PM, JeremyNicoll said:

c) whether you've considered, in the light of this, removing your current non-optional (at the point where someone renews) auto-renewal?  I know it's possible to disable auto-renewal by contacting Sales afterwards, but have always disliked having to do that.

When subscriptions were opt-in, a lot of people were buying license keys assuming they auto-renewed, and they were confused or even upset when it came time to renew their license and it wasn't happening automatically. We decided to make subscriptions opt-out, as it seemed like a large portion of our customer base expected them to be this way.

Edited by GT500
Edited information regarding refunds.
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> When subscriptions were opt-in, a lot of people were buying license keys assuming they auto-renewed, and they were confused or even upset when it came time to renew their license and it wasn't happening automatically.

Surely that could have been solved by making it crystal-clear on the website that the purchase was for the stated number of years only.

 

> We decided to make subscriptions opt-out, as it seemed like a large portion of our customer base expected them to be this way.

The fact that the CMA have launched this enquiry suggests that, in the UK at least, it's in conflict with consumer law.  Perhaps in other countries applicable laws are different.  The enquiry couldn't have been started unless lots of people had complained (about lots of a/v vendors).  It's clearly not just Emsisoft.

 

I notice that in your list of replies above you didn't comment on the first of the CMA issues I mentioned:

   whether consumers expressly agree to be automatically renewed

(which at the moment, as far as I know, we have no choice about).  A while back your main sales pages said there was an opt-out option during the sale process and that turned out not to be true.  I agree that it is possible via "My Emsisoft" or an email to Sales, but I suspect that will cut no ice with the CMA.  I think they would expect there to be an opt-out during the sale, and they might expect the default to be "no automatic renewal".

 

I also didn't list every issue mentioned on the CMA page; they were after all just giving examples of /the sort of/ thing they'd be looking at.

 

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1 minute ago, JeremyNicoll said:

Surely that could have been solved by making it crystal-clear on the website that the purchase was for the stated number of years only.

Unfortunately that didn't appear to be the case, and the best solution to the problem was making subscriptions opt-out.

 

3 minutes ago, JeremyNicoll said:

The fact that the CMA have launched this enquiry suggests that, in the UK at least, it's in conflict with consumer law.

Subscription services are against the law in the UK? Or is it just that some companies were abusing subscription services to secretly overcharge customers, prevent customers from canceling subscriptions, and refuse to offer refunds when customers complain?

 

5 minutes ago, JeremyNicoll said:

It's clearly not just Emsisoft.

Many Anti-Virus software companies have moved to a subscription model by default. I would believe it's more common these days than expecting customers to renew manually, or opt-in to subscriptions when purchasing their license key.

 

7 minutes ago, JeremyNicoll said:

A while back your main sales pages said there was an opt-out option during the sale process and that turned out not to be true.

There was supposed to be an opt-out link in the e-mail confirmation, however those e-mails are rather lengthy and many people were not finding the opt-out link. That's why we moved it to MyEmsisoft.

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Official answers to these questions:

 

On 3/24/2021 at 3:14 PM, JeremyNicoll said:

a) Emsisoft were one of the companies written to

No one appears to be aware of UK authorities contacting us, so they more than likely did not do so.

 

On 3/24/2021 at 3:14 PM, JeremyNicoll said:

b) if you weren't, were you aware of this investigation?

Our management does not appear to have been aware of this investigation.

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Keep in mind that if we feel we are not in compliance with laws/regulations in a country we do business in, then we will certainly make any changes to our policies and procedures that we feel are necessary to keep us compliant with those laws/regulations.

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> Keep in mind...

I never doubted that.

 

> Subscription services are against the law in the UK? Or is it just that some companies were abusing subscription services to secretly overcharge customers, prevent customers from canceling subscriptions, and refuse to offer refunds when customers complain?

 

No, subscription services are fine, provided the customer gets the chance to opt-in at sale time.  Opt-out that requires some process more convoluted than unticking something at sale time, (or better, not having it auto-selected in the first place), is perceived as unfair. 

There are services here that DO use an automatic renewal - car insurance is a good example.  But that's because drivers can be prosecuted for driving without insurance and, of course, are at considerable financial risk if they cause an accident or injure/kill people while uninsured.  The companies I've dealt with make this crystal clear in their paperwork, and write to me more than a month before the auto-renewal occurs (with details of the following year's premium, changes in policy conditions etc).  If I do nothing, the policy automatically renews with the new conditions / cost.

 

There's also companies that eg offer a monthly billing or an annual one, often with a discount for the annual option.  The /customer/ makes the choice though, not the company they are paying.

 

> Many Anti-Virus software companies have moved to a subscription model by default.

I expect that's why so many a/v companies are being investigated.

 

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I agree that (those screenshots) do indeed clearly show that one's taking up a subscription service.   And I do see a statement that says one can cancel a subscription at any time.  But that "at any time" is not true.  You can't opt-out right at the start.

That's the behaviour that the CMA are investigating all those other companies for.

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12 hours ago, JeremyNicoll said:

... I do see a statement that says one can cancel a subscription at any time.  But that "at any time" is not true.  You can't opt-out right at the start.

I think it's supposed to be implied that the subscription can be canceled after the ordering process is finished. After all, you can't cancel something that hasn't started yet.

 

13 hours ago, JeremyNicoll said:

That's the behaviour that the CMA are investigating all those other companies for.

Again, that assumes that subscription-only services are illegal in the UK. If they aren't, then our subscriptions are more than likely not in violation of any laws. Of course we'll have to reserve judgement for that to those who understand UK law better, such as the agencies tasked with enforcing those laws.

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> I think it's supposed to be implied that the subscription can be canceled after the ordering process is finished. After all, you can't cancel something that hasn't started yet.

I agree, you can't.  But you're missing the point, which is that customers who do not want ever to be part of a subscription scheme are not being given the choice.  You're forcing people to have a subscription.  They then have to make an effort to get out of that later on.  Worse, as far as I know, having elected not to be part of a subscription scheme, they have to go through this every year.  You don't remember what their choice was and stick to it.

 

> Again, that assumes that subscription-only services are illegal in the UK.

No it doesn't.  The UK has laws about things like "fairness" in contracts.  Something can be strictly legal, but classed as unfair to the consumer, eg burying unreasonable clauses deep in Ts&Cs that no ordinary person ever reads.  I haven't recently read (and I'm not suggesting you read) any of the law on this - but I've always been interested in consumer law and as a UK resident I'm sure I know more about it than you do.  Maybe laws like this don't exist in your country?  If you don't believe that this is a thing in the UK, look at this advice page from the UK government website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unfair-contract-terms-cma37

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15 hours ago, JeremyNicoll said:

You're forcing people to have a subscription.

If subscriptions are cancellable at any time, by the user via the license management controls we provide them, then no one is being "forced" to have a subscription.

 

15 hours ago, JeremyNicoll said:

The UK has laws about things like "fairness" in contracts.  Something can be strictly legal, but classed as unfair to the consumer, eg burying unreasonable clauses deep in Ts&Cs that no ordinary person ever reads.  ...  If you don't believe that this is a thing in the UK, look at this advice page from the UK government website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unfair-contract-terms-cma37

There is some mention of automatically renewing contracts in the first PDF at your link, and the following screenshot contains a few points that seem relevant:

image.png

 

15 hours ago, JeremyNicoll said:

Maybe laws like this don't exist in your country?

I live in the United States, and here many of us do not believe it is fair for executive branch agencies to make up their own rules that companies or civilians have to follow. In order for rules to change, the legislature here is supposed to pass new laws, and then executive branch agencies are expected to enforce those laws based on the reasons why they were passed into law and based on court interpretations of those laws. It's actually supposed to be illegal here for executive brand agencies to reinterpret laws on their own.

And any further discussion on that treads on violating our forum guidelines, so I'll end it there. ;)

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Apologies for chipping in to your topic Jeremy but I just wanted to add a couple of points

I don't have a problem with it being a subscription per-se, it's that auto-renewal is forced upon us - we have to accept auto-renewal during purchase as there is no option to opt-out at this stage.

I recently renewed my licence, and there is no mention anywhere in the order confirmation emails that the subscription will auto-renew, nor is there any information about how to cancel auto-renewal.  And as far as I can see, there is no information on your website about how to cancel auto-renewal either.

Lastly, your terms and conditions, accessible from the point of sale page, state the following:

image.png.93ccd182b1378e13b89f11e2d900a034.png

It states "We may provide you with the option to automatically renew the product licence or subscription" - this is clearly untrue !

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11 hours ago, Shari Hammel said:

I have lost my 3 year subscription due to a computer reset. How do I get it back?

Send an e-mail to support@emsisoft.com from the e-mail address you purchased the license from, and one of our support representatives will be happy to assist you.

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18 hours ago, marko said:

It states "We may provide you with the option to automatically renew the product licence or subscription" - this is clearly untrue !

I've let our management know that we may need to update our terms and conditions.

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18 hours ago, marko said:

I recently renewed my licence, and there is no mention anywhere in the order confirmation emails that the subscription will auto-renew, nor is there any information about how to cancel auto-renewal.  And as far as I can see, there is no information on your website about how to cancel auto-renewal either.

Can you forward your order confirmation e-mail to support@emsisoft.com? All order confirmations are supposed to mention automatic renewals, so we'd like to see if we can find out why it's missing.

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7 hours ago, GT500 said:

Can you forward your order confirmation e-mail to support@emsisoft.com? All order confirmations are supposed to mention automatic renewals, so we'd like to see if we can find out why it's missing.

Two emails just forwarded as requested.

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16 hours ago, marko said:

Two emails just forwarded as requested.

Thanks. I already replied via e-mail, however I've forwarded the two e-mails you sent to our management for review.

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