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New FTC rule aims to end subscription cancellation nightmares

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We’ve all been there. You sign up for a free trial for something you need fast, only to find that it’s not all it’s supposed to be, and getting rid of it is much harder. This sort of thing has been associated with gym memberships and music club subscriptions. for decades, but has recently become much more popular online, where you can subscribe to something with a few clicks but unsubscribing requires a call to the company or an email to support. The US Federal Trade Commission is as tired of it as we are all.

In a vote of 3-1, the FTC proposed amending a statute first enacted in 1973 to make unsubscribing easier and more consistent in the modern world, as reported by Ars Technique. Called the “Click to delete” arrangement. to the original negative option rule, the Commission wants to “require companies to make canceling a subscription at least as easy as it was to start one”. So if it takes three clicks from the Amazon homepage to subscribe to Amazon Prime, it shouldn’t take more than three clicks to cancel.

Basically, this rule would require that the same method be available for registration or cancellation: no more “call our support line to confirm your cancellation”. The proposed changes would also limit the types of offers companies can make before confirming the cancellation, giving consumers the option to decline even when looking at offers for, say, a month of free service. Finally, the FTC is proposing a requirement for an annual reminder before a customer is automatically charged for a subscription renewal. These changes could mean googling “how the hell do I cancel my Peacock Plus subscription?” it could be a thing of the past.

The FTC will welcome public comments on the Click to Cancel provision. You can expect a bitter fight from the companies that benefit most from free trials who suddenly become hard to cancel. But with a 3-1 vote from commission chairs and a general bias in favor of consumers under the current administration, the changes have a good chance of making it into federal guidelines.