The public comment period for the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed “click-to-cancel” rule is now closed, and responses to the proposal tell a clear story: Consumers are frustrated by the subscription practices employed by many companies, and would support any changes that give them greater control over how and when they’re charged.
The FTC proposed a formal rule in March that would require publishers (and other companies selling subscriptions) to offer straightforward self-service cancellation mechanisms, and asked consumers to submit written comments on the idea.
The proposal has received over 1,000 comments totaling over 100,000 words, so Toolkits trained an AI chatbot on the responses to help identify the most prevalent themes and sentiments. You can query the chatbot yourself to surface specific information from the submitted comments or read our high-level summary below.
While consumer frustrations and support for the proposal were clear, companies and trade organizations called for further opportunities to present their perspectives.
Key themes that emerged from the comments included:
Consumer support for the proposal is evident
The public comments revealed strong support for the FTC’s proposal, with many describing it as a necessary step towards increased consumer protection and prevention of deceptive business practices. They argued that companies should be held accountable for their actions and that consumers should have the right to cancel services easily and without penalty. Commenters called for increased accountability from companies and argued that many of the retention tactics being employed are unethical and unfair.
Comments called out publishers and media companies specifically
Overall sentiment towards publishers and media companies was negative, with commenters expressing a desire for more straightforward and transparent cancellation processes.
One commenter mentioned that a newspaper they subscribed to would list cancellations as a “Hold”, allowing the company to still claim them as a subscriber. They also noted that the newspaper’s offshored customer service refused to cancel subscriptions, leading to people spending many months trying to cancel or receiving threatening notices over non-payment for unwanted subscriptions. Another commenter highlighted poor cancellation experiences with companies including The Wall Street Journal and New York Times, drawing attention to their use of “dark patterns” and other deceptive practices.
Cancellation difficulties were front and center
Several comments highlighted the difficulties faced by consumers when trying to cancel subscriptions and described the practices of many companies as unnecessarily complicated and deceptive. They argued that if it’s easy to sign up for a service, it should be equally as easy to cancel it. One commenter diagnosed with early-stage dementia emphasized the need for easy cancellation processes, as they often forget about their subscriptions. Another commenter shared their struggle with finding the cancellation page for Amazon’s subscriptions, suggesting that the process is intentionally complicated.
Cost savings are seen as a key benefit
Several commenters believe that implementing the proposed rule could save consumers significant amounts of money. They argued that the rule would prevent unwanted charges and make cancellations easier, thereby saving consumers money in the long run. The comments also touched on the financial impact of difficult cancellation processes on vulnerable populations and suggested the proposed changes could help protect them from deceptive practices and financial exploitation. Making cancellations easier would allow these individuals to manage their spending more closely, they said.
Companies and trade groups called for hearings and stakeholder input
Comments submitted by some trade organizations and companies requested hearings and opportunities for industry stakeholders to present their perspectives on the proposed rule. Further discussion and input from industry stakeholders would help mitigate the impact on businesses that rely on subscription revenues, they argued.
Comments submitted by digital publishing trade group Digital Content Next support addressing deceptive and unfair practices but recommend avoiding overcomplication, excessive notifications, and uneven liabilities. They emphasized the need for clear and easy access to cancellation options and uniform rules to promote clarity for both consumers and businesses.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) expressed concerns about the proposed rule changes, stating they could impose unnecessary burdens on companies that have worked for years to provide “inventive, convenient subscription offers that improve consumers’ lives”. The advertising trade body argued that the requirements will have a significant impact on the digital media industry, and will be costly and time-consuming to implement. It urged the Commission to consider a delayed implementation date of at least 12 months following the finalization of the new rule.