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Tricking consumers into subscribing and trapping them is now illegal, FTC says

99park—sportsjournalists

Illustration by Greg Storey

November 19, 2021

Retention is important, sure, but how significant are those numbers if you’re misleading your audience into subscribing and making it unnecessarily difficult to cancel?

Allowing someone to easily subscribe on the web, but forcing them to hop on the phone to cancel, is an annoyance at the least and a “dark pattern” that is against the law now at most.

A few weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a new enforcement policy statement, summed up in these tweets by the Chair of the FTC, Linda Khan:

As reported by Nieman Lab, a study of 526 news organizations in the United States found that only 41% make it easy for people to cancel subscriptions online.

You should want your audience to want to subscribe to your insights. It seems wild to me that nearly half partake in these tactics, but I can’t say I’m surprised after having encountered similar situations time and time again.

When it comes to blogging, I think those—especially in our community—value real readers, meaning an audience who purposefully checks in to see what they have to say because they want to, not because they have to.

Numbers can look great, but how are they translating to work or tangible business if they’re inherently misleading?

Via Nieman Lab:

The FTC vowed to ramp up enforcement on companies that fail to provide an ‘easy and simple’ cancellation process, including an option that’s ‘at least as easy’ as the one to subscribe.

I’ve definitely been the victim of subscriptions that are ongoing, costly and near-impossible to cancel. But, with a promise to be stricter in enforcement, I’m curious to see how much change we’ll see going forward especially among news organizations.

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A lot of blogs in our community closely follow the FTC and wrote about this new enforcement in detail. Here are some great posts if you want more information:

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