It's disgusting and way too many companies are utilizing these tactics rather than building a solid business model.
More companies that are doing this should be called out. Ive seen naturebox, justfab and others just to name a few.
Works every time.
Because the service provider is dishonest already.
There seems to me a somewhat troubling trend of reaction to the widely derided "corporate personhood" principle in law, by deliberately depersonalizing such "persons" to an extent which appears to me to increasingly include not only the "corporate person" per se, but the actual people persons who constitute that corporation, and who implement and act upon its policies - to regard the modern corporation as a faceless alien behemoth, after all, is of necessity to overlook the fact that it is an organization of people, in theory (if to a somewhat greater extent than in practice) around a common goal.
Your comment here is squarely in this line. "There's no person there", after all, is blatantly erroneous: of course there is a person there, otherwise there'd be no one to whom to worry about lying. It's been a while since I last reread The Authoritarians, but I seem to remember this kind of depersonalization being a significant theme in its analysis of how your category of authoritarian followers become willing to countenance human rights abuses. In that light, it surprises me to see you express a perspective which includes precisely that kind of elision, and I'm curious whether you see a substantive difference where I do not.
Miss Manners reports trying to get her newspaper address changed. She called several times, but no result. Finally an agent told her that they are instructed to not do anything unless the customer was angry. She politely asked "Would you put me down as having been livid?" He politely agreed.
Did she lie? We all know we're just trying to get the system to work for us. Today, when you can't even begin to talk to a real person on the other end, you have less (no?) requirement to pretend you're interacting with one.
is it unethical to lie to an automated email form or a chatbot?
It's clearly important to treat people with respect, even when they find themselves in a job position whose description goes against your interests.
But you wouldn't be lying to them, as I can assure you the customer service worker couldn't care less whether you're really deaf or not. As an analogy, telling a lie via telegram only counts as lying to the recipient, not to the post office clerks typing and handling the telegram.
In fact you would be lying to a faceless entity that is not a human being, whose charter clearly states that its purpose is to extract as much money as possible from you and funnel it somewhere else. Where to? Into the (ultimate) pockets of people who have built this entire construction in order to be as removed as possible from the moral and legal implications of the faceless entity's actions. Not to mention remaining very well hidden. Cowards and thieves, at the very least.
Whether you believe I'm lying to the faceless entity or to the cowards and thieves who built it that way (which is a valid philosophical point) I have no qualms whatsoever doing either thing.
Perhaps not to you. Morality is personal, and to me this comment is abhorrent.
Whenever I work from home, there's often a knock at the door from someone trying to sell me solar panels. It's always a hard sell, they don't take "no" for an answer, and I don't have the time to deal with it. So when they ask if I'm the homeowner, I respond, "No, I rent.". They thank me and continue on their way.
You are right. What makes it okay to lie is that no harm is done to anyone I care about not harming. That they made themselves someone I no longer care about harming is their own issue.
I'd like to think that I could do something productive with that time that would make my life or the world slightly better. Plus the frustration of sitting on hold would negatively impact my health and state of mind.
That seems like quite a lot of harm; certainly not worth an empty idealistic gesture that would not help anyone.
Being put on hold does far more damage than lying in this particular case.
Not that they are a great source for morality anyway, but if you're going to use them, at least use them properly, mom.
Sorry, deaf humor. (I agree with you).
Most of the times the news are loaded without popups and sometimes with wrong CSS but still readable.
Sometimes I need to enable js only for the actual host for it to work. In the end it's worth the hassle.
EDIT: If it's just text I'm after, I'll also go in with elinks.
There's no law to say that you can terminate by email. Most companies won't bother chasing, but there's nothing to stop them really hurting you.
In most of Europe, there is.
In Germany, for example, the business has to allow cancelling via the same way as you signed up.
That seems reasonable.
Do you know a lot of companies that will let someone sign up via e-mail? I don't.
It's a silly situation that arises because of the (almost) zero marginal cost of providing digital media. It makes sense in the physical world: you can't claim your money back because you didn't read the magazine they sent. But these laws are much the same in the virtual world.
If they provided and you agreed to a way to cancel, and you don't use that way, they are totally within their rights to continue (passively) providing access, and charging for it. In perpetuity, yes.
But in the case of a passive web site subscription, if the customer stops accessing the site and stops the method of payment, no services have been rendered, and no cost has been incurred by the company. Web server logs could even prove this (although the company could also falsify them).
So a better analogy would probably be a gym membership. Imagine a gym refuses to allow a customer to cancel in-person or on the phone, instead requiring the customer to mail a letter. So a customer, justifiably angry at this, calls his bank or credit card and stops future payments, and never sets foot in the gym again. Now, no services have been rendered after that date, and no costs have been incurred by the gym. They are owed nothing--if not legally in all jurisdictions, then ethically and morally, and therefore legally it should be the same.
I would like to see this tested in court, even a small claims court. In the case of a company intentionally making it difficult and time-consuming to unsubscribe, and a customer cancelling the payment method due to that difficulty, I have a feeling that most judges would side with the former customer. And as has been pointed out, in many places this is not legal, and I would not be surprised if that included several U.S. states.
Yep, you'd be screwed there too. If your agreement with the gym said you would unsubscribe by mail, and you just stop paying without doing so, they could recover the money.
Gyms make their money by having people pay without using the gym, so they wouldn't care that they aren't 'rendering services'. That's a big reason many companies, and most gyms, use subscriptions.
You could fight it in court if you want to. You might even win. You might even win the following battle to recover your credit score. But all that's going to be a lot more of a hassle than picking up the phone and cancelling in the first place. It takes a special kind of person to willfully seek such a pyrrhic victory.
That smelled. So instead I signed up for the ETrade checkbook, wrote myself a check for my remaining balance, cashed it, and never dealt with them again.
So yeah, it's not like any of these types of establishments care at all about their reputation. They'll gladly ignore your not-to-their-letter cancellation, stop contacting you, and send your $50 usage fees for no actual usage to collections.
For any subscription services I run, if someone mails us asking to cancel, we normally direct them to the on-site cancellation process. This does use all our normal security and log-in procedures, and is fully automated and can be used in moments at any time.
However, if someone did not cancel that way (or in one of the other ways we allow for in our terms) and just blocked their payment, we would be well within our legal rights to take action to recover the money they owed us. In practice we're only charging a small amount in these cases so we'd probably just cancel their service when payment didn't go through, but there is no guarantee any other business would make the same decision, so your strategy is risky.
If a real person replies to my mail, it's reasonable to expect that it has been delivered.
They're more than welcome to ask any question via mail or initiate the call in the time I specify (outside of my working hours) - which I wrote. Or they can have an online form to do it as well, just like they did when they accepted my money in the first place.
> we would be well within our legal rights to take action to recover the money they owed us
I don't owe any money, since I told company I wanted to cancel before I had to. That is enough done from my part such that the consumer laws protect me and any lawsuit would be dismissed before I even hear about it.
Sorry, but that usually isn't how it works.
That is enough done from my part such that the consumer laws protect me and any lawsuit would be dismissed before I even hear about it.
I don't know where you're from, but in any jurisdiction I'm familiar with, it seems unlikely that would be the case.
From a purely practical point of view, I'm not sure it should be the case either, even though I'm generally in favour of reasonable consumer protection laws. For e-mail specifically, there are too many problems with relying on it, particularly if significant amounts of money or other commitments are affected by whether or not a subscription continues.
Depends on the laws I suppose. I Denmark you cannot bind a consumer to pay for a service for any period except for a few special cases (for instance, phone service up to 6 months).
I'm from Denmark, and we have some fairly strong consumer protection laws exactly to prevent things like this. If I cancel any kind of prepaid service, not only do they have to stop charging me money after the periode is finished, they also have to give me back the money equivalent to the remaining period from the end of month + 1 month and forward.
There is still a question of what constitutes adequate notice of cancellation, though. If you're subscribing to a service based in a country other than your own, there may be other laws that are relevant as well.
Personally, I'm a fan of the symmetry argument: you should be able to cancel a service through equivalent methods to what you could use to sign up for it, and without requiring an unreasonable amount of effort.
While that's one aspect of the situation - and yes, a matching notification requirement is sensible - this discussion of "cancellation" is missing the important question: were goods delivered or services used?
Using a newspaper publisher as an example, if we're talking about a simple contract (for either a predefined period or specific termination criteria) where some amount of money is regularly exchanged for the regular delivery on dead trees or electronic means (email) of their publication, then there is a debt that needs to be repaid. The publisher fulfilled their obligations created by the contract.
However, this is a very different situation if no debt has been created. If the contract was a regular payment to gain access to their back archives, if you haven't used their services, then there isn't a debt. Also, I suspect most businesses using contracts of this type will include some sort of clause that terminates all of their obligations if the payments stop.
The point being that there is going to depend heavily on the specifics of the situation, so it's dangerous to generalize.
 Some jurisdictions might treat use of the service separately than a "retainer" for access. This doesn't really change anything, though it might make the situation much more complicated.
That is certainly true. I do think a few people here seem to be taking a rather narrow interpretation of when services have been provided, though.
Say you sign up for access to an on-line newspaper, but then as it happens you're busy and don't actually read it. The newspaper still had reporters writing stories, and servers and Internet bandwidth to pay for, and admin staff dealing with the tax records triggered by your subscription, and so on. I don't see why someone should necessarily expect to get back their money under those circumstances.
Perhaps a more obvious example would be an insurance policy. For obvious reasons, you can't get a refund at the end of the period of insurance just because in practice you didn't need to make a claim.
Whenever I've been putting terms and conditions together for a new service, the lawyers always seem very careful about exactly what constitutes offer and acceptance to form the contract, when provision of services starts, how the agreement can be ended and any terms that survive termination, and other details like that.
But then how exactly is it more secure to accept a cancellation by Random Dude on the phone?
Except to make the customer (especially international customers, which may have to call in the middle of the night and who may incur significant charges) jump through a whole lot of hoops and to make it as difficult as possible to cancel.
To me this reeks like a shit ton of bad faith by the service provider, which has nothing whatsoever to do with security.
I suppose if they had some sort of credentials set up for phone access then that would be a point in its favour. My bank do have well established security procedures for me to contact them by phone, for example.
To be clear, I am not in any way condoning requiring phone cancellation as a technique for making it artificially difficult or frustrating for someone to cancel when they are within their rights to do so. As you say, it stinks of bad faith.
In general, there is nothing that you can ask me over a phone that cannot be asked to someone pretending to be me who can get the details in a variety of ways. To static questions there are static answers. If you perform two factor authentication properly, this is actually easier over a website than the phone.
In any case, one isn't more or less secure than the other. The physological effect of speaking to a phone just makes someone feel one is more safe. I'd say that if you send an email to the address you have on the account details, you can reasonably expect to get the right person to the same degree as you would when calling the phone number on the account.
You are definitely not within your rights to extort people over services not rendered.
That's a very entitled POV.
What, exactly, is "entitled" about asking someone to cancel through a simple process on the same web site they signed up with? In any business I run, it takes maybe 10 seconds, and the service is completely transparent about how to do it. It's secure, it's fully automated, and it's in the customer's own interests as well because it will also cancel any recurring payment arrangements with other services immediately and automatically.
What is entitled is things like the person who mailed us the other day, after hours on a Friday and just a few hours before their next subscription payment was due, saying very rudely and aggressively that they weren't using the service and they'd forgotten to cancel before but now they wanted to and they didn't authorise any further payments and they'd do all sorts of nasty things to us if we charged their card again. I mean seriously, they were told three times when they signed up what the charging basis was, and they could have cancelled using the normal facility in far less time than it took to write their little rant. It was only through luck that one of us saw their message in time to act on it, and if we hadn't, it would have been entirely their fault.
There is nothing remotely extortionate about the business practices we are talking about. The services in question are completely transparent and up-front about both what the charging basis is and how to cancel, and our terms are legally unremarkable.
As for "services not rendered", anyone is free to cancel their subscriptions with any service I help to run at any time, and none of those services use any sort of sneaky long term commitments or ever have. But if you stay signed up, and you have access to the services, you don't get to decide later that you want your money back because you didn't actually use them that month. If you think that's unreasonable, I wish you luck in getting all your insurance premiums refunded if you haven't claimed on them at the end of the year.
The fact that you feel entitled to their hard earned money, despite providing no service or value.
> just a few hours before their next subscription payment was due
What's wrong with that? Are customers required to provide notice? It doesn't cost you anything to back date the termination date if you don't feel like handling it until Monday. It's your system.
> they were told three times when they signed up
Expecting your EULA is binding, and that if you choose to deviate from it, that's because you're just such a great guy, and if you felt like attempting to take their money or tarnish their credit for not using the cancellation avenue you prefer, you'd be perfectly within your rights... All that sounds rather entitled to me.
We've spent several years building that particular service. We pay the bills for running it whether or not any particular customer uses it, because we have to have enough computers and bandwidth and so on available so that our subscribers can get what they're paying for. Our expenses don't magically disappear just because someone didn't use a service that they had previously used and were still signed up for during a certain period, nor can we telepathically tell whether intermittent users will not actually use the service during the next billing period.
What's wrong with that?
What's wrong with sending an e-mail to an address no-one is likely to be monitoring in real time, denying permission for a fully automated scheduled payment to be taken a few hours later? Well, no-one might read the message before the payment gets taken, for one thing.
It doesn't cost you anything to back date the termination date if you don't feel like handling it until Monday.
You don't seem to understand how this works. The money would already have been taken by the automated systems at that point. That means we would have to actively refund it, which may in itself incur a charge depending on the payment processing services involved. In any case, it requires significant manual intervention to do that and update all the records accordingly, which is at best wasting time we could otherwise spend on more useful activities.
Expecting your EULA is binding, and that if you choose to deviate from it, that's because you're just such a great guy, and if you felt like attempting to take their money or tarnish their credit for not using the cancellation avenue you prefer, you'd be perfectly within your rights...
We are perfectly within our rights. That's the point.
As it happens, we often do go out of our way to deal with messages from our subscribers as helpfully as we can. We take considerable pride in offering very good customer service, and we receive far more positive messages than complaints. In some cases, we will even voluntarily refund someone's subscription fee for a month, perhaps if we believe their situation wasn't entirely their fault or they had some honest misunderstanding about something.
But make no mistake, doing these things costs us time and, in some cases, money. We will do it anyway for most people, because that's the kind of business we want to run. However, we have absolutely no obligation to do so, either legally or morally. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we also had little inclination to do so in the case of someone who by their own admission had known what to do and failed to do it, yet who felt the appropriate reaction to that was to write to us rudely, making an unreasonable demand and immediately threatening us if we failed to comply, instead of simply asking for help if they needed it.
Your of a different opinion, that's your prerogative. Just don't expect everyone to feel the same way. I certainly don't.
I don't care how much you've poured into automating your business processes. That's what you do to increase your profit margins. I only care about two things: My input (time, effort, money), and your output (services provided).
That's just business. If someone is rude, be happy to see the back of them as a customer. Or fire them as a customer. Both those are acceptable. Taking a consumer to court if you think you'd have a case (you wouldn't) is also your right.
It's also their right to take you to small claims, which depending on the state may require you to send an employee to their state, without a lawyer, to justify your actions to a judge. I think you'll probably discover they're not going to be very sympathetic to your perceived right to take people's money just because you have business expenses in predicting future costs.
They probably do if it was a special order placed for a specific customer who then cancelled once the food was already delivered to the store. And why shouldn't they, if it was entirely the customer's fault?
The rest of your post is just wishful thinking, like most of your other comments in this thread, so I see little reason to continue this discussion. Businesses can and do take non-paying customers to court or through a collections process, and routinely win under the kind of circumstances we're talking about.
In particular, cancelling a payment you owe does not in itself relieve you of any contractual obligations you have, it just means you're in default. You might not like it, but it is the law almost everywhere. As I said in another post, try getting a refund on an insurance policy at the end of the year just because you haven't made a claim, or getting part of your phone bill refunded because you didn't need to make a call in a certain period. If you try cancelling your payment without cancelling your service in those cases, and then refuse to pay what you owe, you'll be taken to court or collections, and you'll lose.
And you didn't special order anything. Your argument here is all kinds of moving goal posts.
Bottom line: Unless you have an actual contract, don't expect to win. And even then, be prepared to demonstrate that your product worked as advertised and explain why, despite communicating by email with the customer as routine, that was not sufficient for cancellation. Pretty sure you haven't addressed this at all except to say "because I thought I could sell the things I bought!". Sorry, but no, you don't get to change the rules just because yours is an Internet service. Especially not for a month to month pre-pay authorization. That's just ridiculous. I haven't even seen pre-paid cellular networks try to pull that scam.
We do have an actual contract, the moment someone signs up and pays us money under our advertised terms. It is as clear and legally binding as if we sat down at a table and signed a piece of paper. I suspect that not understanding this is the cause of many of the incorrect things you've been saying in this thread.
Edit: Just to be reiterate in case it wasn't clear from my other comments, one of the points in those terms specifically says what the process for cancelling is and that an e-mail is not sufficient, for precisely the kinds of reasons we've been talking about on HN today.
And you think that'd stand up in small claims. I'd like to be a fly on the wall when that gets tested. ;-) And the collection agency willing to sign on as a co-defendant? That better be some monthly subscription fee.
Also, there's no way you win a chargeback claim in this case:
You're going to have a rough time explaining why you thought you were within your rights to ignore her cancellation notice. Do you also think your ToS would allow you to ignore certified mail? You might want to talk to an actual lawyer.
Of course, most of the time it never gets that far, because as I said before, we try to provide very good customer service. Among other things, that means we are up-front about our pricing and we give our subscribers quick and effective ways to manage their subscriptions. I wouldn't want to run a business that did the sort of shady things mentioned elsewhere in this discussion. We get very few complaints in the first place, and in reality it's far more common for us to help out someone who made an honest mistake and then get a nice mail back.
All I'm saying here is that we don't have any obligation to go beyond what our terms and the relevant laws require, and in particular, we don't have to accept some random e-mail as cancellation when we explicitly say we won't, for good reasons, and when we provide a quick and effective alternative that is readily available to all subscribers. I honestly can't see why anyone would have a problem with that.
Since he/she cited a specific case however, doesn't seem like "strawman" qualifies.
A company representative is notified of cancellation. A company offering a month to month pre-pay service isn't entitled to anything else. End of story. IMO. Anything else is unethical.
That seems perfectly reasonable. No you're not within your rights to dick with people in bad faith, no matter what a ToS says. You can put whatever you'd like in there. Doesn't mean it'll pass muster when you're in front of a judge.
Beyond that she (the customer) is perfectly within her rights to cancel at any time. So the "but but but, I spent money!" is the real straw-man here. Silhoutte would have considered it his/her obligation to spend that money either way, the customer could have cancelled at the literal last second, through her/his preferred online method even, and that doesn't change a thing. There's a strawman.
Mostly it's probably because I had AT&T try something similar on me in the past year, trying to hold me liable for $1,300 for UVerse service at an address I've never lived at, going as far as to pursue collections against me.
They and the collections dropped their claim pretty quickly when I made it clear I'd be taking them to small claims over this.
Those are different circumstances. I suppose it just irks me that some people think they have a "right" to your property because you were rude?
It's nobody's "right" to dip into your wallet for a prepaid service. It's not moral. It's not ethical. Can you think of another service where that'd fly? I can't. The utility companies only seek to recover services rendered. Prepaid phone services will simply suspend service until you pay up. It's your right to suspend payments on your credit card to your MVNO whenever you like. It's their right to suspend service if you do. It's not their right to do much else.
That seems totally fair.
Something approximately the same as that is true across the EU under the recent changes to the consumer protection rules.
On your other points, I'll just mention that this subthread was originally about whether accepting e-mail as a cancellation method was appropriate, not so much the original topic of trying to force people to call as an aggressive way to deter cancellation. It seems we all agree that making it excessively difficult for someone to cancel when they're entitled to is scummy behaviour, and I imagine the law in many places would take a similar view.
Some people would probably argue that we make it too easy for customers to leave, but as I've said, we prefer to run these services a certain way, and if it doesn't completely maximise profit then that's just too bad. It's not uncommon for some of these services to have a pattern of seasonal memberships, so from an entirely self-interested point of view, the trust we earn by making it easy to sign up and easy to cancel is probably of some value anyway.
Of course, you normally can't sign up for services that require payment via e-mail anyway, since no-one credible is going to ask for enough details that they can charge you through an insecure medium like e-mail.
They require you mail a physical letter requesting cancellation via certified mail! And you must prove you are the account holder and then wait 6-8 weeks for them to process your cancellation, so you might just end up auto-renewed for another year unless you cancelled two months in advance.
It's actually a wonder some of these business models based on theft by deception/fraud don't get prosecuted/sued out of existence...
"Petty" issues like this don't light the activists' fire sufficiently to bring the heat required to push thru change. Another similar issue is predator towing operations. Every one agrees they have to go, but they're far down on the list of priorities.
If you use your credit card, you can wiggle your way out of it if you explain that these cancellation processes are absurd. Call the gym and ask if they'll cancel your membership over the phone first. After they refuse, tell your credit card company about it and ask them to try calling the gym with you on the line to get your membership cancelled. If the gym persists in its refusal you should be able to dispute and block the charge.
For me though this happened to be linked to my debit card (and I never ever put monthly billables on my debit card so I'm not sure what I was thinking when I signed up). However, because I had no other services linked to my debit card, I was able to have my bank just send me a new card and that was that.
As annoying as these cancellation procedures are, they are almost always laid out in the up-front contract (especially for a gym, where you signed up in person). The time to object is when you sign the contract, not when you're trying to cancel.
(Not that I don't <strikethrough>hate</strikethrough> like this practice and find it shady and annoying, but wouldn't want people to wind up in deep trouble as a result).
My local paper even plays games with invoicing. They bill on a weird cycle (10 week) and will send you out of cycle/overlapping invoices that you don't actually owe. Sometimes those out of cycle invoices casually jack the rate up 20-30% -- if you pay it, you're accepting new terms.
Essentially, if these things ever get to court if you contacted someone other than the agent they can claim they weren't notified, didn't know, etc, if they are shady, but a registered letter to the registered agent is like the gold standard of having contacted them.
I can't remember the names of most of the companies though. One was definitely Match, because they expect you to call them to cancel (or did at the time)
Please be careful. That is not necessarily the case, and depending on your local laws you may be left owing money, going to collections, and/or having your credit damaged for non-payment.
Correct. Former vendor, worked with their cell network crew on many occasions.
To be more fair, all the large carriers are mostly laden with corporate procedures and bureaucracy so it's hard for worker bees to make progress even if they know what's needed. T-Mo's procedures are just more broken.
Then I changed address. They might still be billing me for all I know.
Since it is actually a bit challenging to correctly pull your free credit report, start here: https://www.ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/get-my-free-cred... (Simply Googling "free credit report" and clicking willy-nilly can lead to sadness.)
In fact I'm overdue to pull mine myself; thanks for reminding me.
On the upside they answered the phone immediately outside office hours and it was all cancelled in less than 30 seconds, so it's not always a hard sell on the phone
I'd do anything to have a different ISP, but my apartment building has the choice of Comcast or 768k ATT DSL for the same price since I'd have to also get a phone line.
Keep in mind this is 140 year old company which can't change all at once.
(disclaimer, I am an investor)
That's pretty awesome. I'm just going to check this list from now on before I put my credit card info into a web form.
We plan to make money by recommending new services (i.e. we see you have X and Y, would you like to try Spotify).