Microsoft, McAfee, Symantec charge cards repeatedly

May 25, 2007

Few days back, I got one of those usual newsletter from Windows Secrets containing an article attachment on how Microsoft, McAfee, Symantec are charging their customer's credit cards repeatedly.

Being a story that is controversial in nature, I decided to send them a message back to give me more feedbacks, informations to add credibility to their article's claim. The CEO of Windows Secrets, Brian Livingston, did called me to gave me updates, ways on how one can try out and see the truth behind what they have alleged against the aforementioned companies. He asked me if India have laws for/against Credit Cards Auto-Renewal mechanism - well, we don't have that and the company can charge you after you agree to it.

Well, I haven't experimented on the subscription renewal thingy out for many reason;

* I do not have a credit card set aside specific for experiments.
* I do not use any Microsoft Product that needs subscription.
* Being on a Mac more often than not these days, I do not use any Anti-virus.

Anyway, here are few excerpts reproduced verbatim from the article;

Windows Live OneCare is the least transparent

Of all the companies, Microsoft's all-in-one security and maintenance package, Windows Live OneCare, has the most-hidden automatic subscription-renewal policy and is the most difficult to learn how to cancel.

"You have selected a one year subscription to Windows Live OneCare ... This is an annual subscription that will be automatically charged to your credit card every year at the then current price unless you cancel your account or select an alternative plan. You must agree to the Windows Live OneCare Subscription Agreement to access the service."

McAfee embeds auto-renewal policy in EULA

"If you have agreed to permit McAfee to automatically renew your subscription to the Software by charging a valid credit card number which you have provided to McAfee, your subscription will be automatically renewed thirty (30) days prior to the expiration of the term and each anniversary thereafter for a fee no greater than McAfee's then-current price, excluding promotional and discount pricing."

"McAfee may continue charging you for any subscription automatically renewed unless you inform McAfee´s customer support department at (408) 992-8599 or (866) 622-3911 (or any other local number provided by the respective McAfee entity in your region) not to renew your subscription to the Software at least thirty (30) days prior to the expiration of your subscription to the Software and informing them of your desire not to have such subscription automatically renewed."

Symantec: Mandatory auto-renewal, but easier to cancel

"By placing this order, you consent to Symantec automatically renewing your annual subscription. Symantec will notify you by e-mail prior to expiration of your current subscription ... If you do not want to be automatically charged, you may discontinue the auto-renewal feature of Norton Ongoing Protection at any time after completing this order by following the instructions contained on the Symantec Web site and in the confirmation e-mail."

What's behind the hard-to-cancel policies?

Corporate altruism doesn't seem to be the only motive in the move to recurring credit-card charges, however. Last year, an article in TechWeb credited Symantec's then consumer-group chief Enrique Salem as saying that automatic renewal of product updates was one of several "revenue-generating" strategies to "pump up the consumer group's bottom line."

Consumer reaction is decidely negative

"I usually don't sign up for services that auto-renew. Why? Because I am surrounded by examples of companies that REFUSE to stop charging when the customer tells them to. They call it an 'error' and keep right on charging — all you can do is call and hope they eventually stop taking your money for a service you've long since stopped using."

If you feel the pain, you must complain

Corporations seldom change policies that make them rich, unless enough customers complain. If automatic renewal works for you, then by all means keep the service going. But, if you don't like the way it's been implemented by your security provider, it's time to let them know.

Read the actual article - Microsoft, McAfee, Symantec charge cards repeatedly.