FTC Chair says “click to subscribe, call to cancel” is illegal, will step up enforcement

Sarah Scire, Nieman Lab:

Discovering they had to get on the phone to cancel a subscription they signed up for online rankled several respondents in our survey looking at why people canceled their news subscriptions. The reaction to the call-to-cancel policy ranged from “an annoyance” and “ridiculous” to “shady” and “oppressive.”


A study of 526 news organizations in the United States found that only 41% make it easy for people to cancel subscriptions online, and more than half trained customer service reps in tactics to dissuade customers who call to unsubscribe.

There are many examples of this heinous practice, something the FTC refers to as “Negative option marketing”.

From the official FTC enforcement policy:

ROSCA requires negative option sellers to provide a simple, reasonable means for consumers to cancel their contracts. To meet this standard, negative option sellers should provide cancellation mechanisms that are at least as easy to use as the method the consumer used to initiate the negative option feature.


In addition, negative option sellers should provide their cancellation mechanisms at least through the same medium (such as website or mobile application) the consumer used to consent to the negative option feature.

That last bit is critical. If, say, a service lets me sign up on a web site, they can’t make me use a different medium to cancel. So if I sign up on the web, they can’t make me cancel on the phone, they have to allow me to cancel on the web.