Adobe's Recent Regulatory Challenges

Adobe's lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alongside California's proposed regulations have sparked important conversations about consumer protection and business practices in the subscription economy. We break down what it means for subscriptions brands.

Table of Contents

    “Wait, am I about to get sued by the FTC?”

    If you sell any type of subscription product, you may be asking yourself this question in light of Adobe's lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This lawsuit alongside California's proposed regulations have sparked important conversations about consumer protection and business practices in the subscription economy. Here, we explore the implications of these developments and outline best practices for subscription-based businesses.

    Key Regulatory Developments

    FTC Lawsuit Against Adobe

    The FTC has filed a lawsuit against Adobe, alleging deceptive practices related to their subscription cancellation process. Specifically, the FTC claims Adobe "trapped customers into year-long subscriptions through hidden early termination fees and numerous cancellation hurdles". This action highlights the increasing scrutiny on subscription-based businesses and their customer retention tactics.

    California's Proposed Regulations

    California is considering new regulations that could significantly impact how subscription businesses operate. These proposed rules aim to enhance consumer protection and transparency in subscription services, including stricter requirements around obtaining affirmative consent, providing cancellation mechanisms, and sending reminders to customers.

    Critical Areas of Focus

    While the proposed regulations cover a wide range of areas, below are the four that brands need to be most aware of with specific examples for each.

    1. Affirmative Consent and Record Keeping. Businesses may be required to obtain and maintain verifiable affirmative consent from customers for subscriptions.
      • Example: A subscription service requires users to actively check a box that says "I agree to subscribe to monthly deliveries" before proceeding with the purchase, rather than having the box pre-checked.
    2. Restrictions on Retention Tactics Offering discounts to prevent cancellations may require explicit customer consent. Without consent, subscriptions may need to be automatically canceled.
      • Example: When a customer tries to cancel their gym membership, the gym offers a 50% discount to keep them subscribed. However, they must first ask "Would you like to hear about our retention offers?" and only proceed if the customer says yes. If the customer declines, they must immediately process the cancellation.
    3. Crackdown on 'Dark Patterns'. Any practices that hinder a customer's ability to provide willing, affirmative consent could face legal challenges.
      • Example: An e-commerce site removes the confusing multi-step cancellation process that forced users to navigate through several pages of offers and surveys before allowing them to cancel. Instead, they implement a simple "Cancel Subscription" button that's easily accessible from the account settings.
    4. Cancellation Mechanisms. Companies may be required to allow cancellation through the same medium used for sign-up, with specific requirements for phone cancellations.
      • Example: A streaming service that allows sign-ups through their mobile app now ensures that users can also cancel their subscription directly through the app, rather than forcing them to call a customer service line or use a desktop website to cancel.

    Best Practices for Subscription Businesses

    In light of these developments, subscription-based businesses should consider implementing the following best practices. These will not only help you to stay ahead of the regulation curve, but also provide an overall better customer experience.

    1. Offer transparent pricing and terms. Clearly communicate all costs, fees, and terms upfront. Avoid burying crucial information in fine print.
    2. Streamline your cancellation process. Ensure that customers can easily find and use a straightforward cancellation process without unnecessary obstacles.
    3. Clearly communicate all upcoming orders, charges, and changes to billing. Regularly inform customers about upcoming orders, billing changes, and obtain explicit consent for terms, fees, and renewals.
    4. Keep up to date. Stay informed about regulatory changes and adapt business practices accordingly to avoid potential legal issues.

    Smartrr's Role in Compliance and Customer Experience

    At Smartrr, we understand the challenges these regulatory changes pose for subscription businesses. Our platform is designed to help companies not only comply with evolving regulations but also to enhance the overall customer experience.

    • Transparent Subscription Management: Smartrr's user-friendly interface allows businesses to clearly display pricing, terms, and conditions, promoting transparency and trust with customers.
    • Easy Cancellation Process: Our platform includes features that enable businesses to offer hassle-free cancellation options, aligning with regulatory requirements and improving customer satisfaction.
    • Automated Communication: Smartrr's automated notification system helps businesses keep customers informed about upcoming orders, billing changes, and renewal dates, ensuring clear and consistent communication.
    • Consent Management: Our platform includes tools for obtaining and recording customer consent, helping businesses maintain compliance with affirmative consent requirements.
    • Flexible Retention Strategies: Smartrr allows for the implementation of compliant retention tactics, ensuring that discount offers and other retention strategies align with regulatory guidelines.

    Moving Forward

    While these regulatory actions aim to clarify existing laws, some ambiguity may persist. However, they signal a clear trend towards increased consumer protection in the subscription economy. Businesses that prioritize transparency, customer consent, and ease of service management are likely to be better positioned in this evolving landscape.

    By adopting customer-centric practices, subscription businesses can not only avoid potential legal challenges but also build stronger, more trusting relationships with their customers. This proactive approach can contribute to raising industry standards and fostering a more sustainable subscription economy.