Security assurance at expense of customer choice?

I'd be the first to admit that I'm somewhat of a control freak. I don't like using giro transfers because I hate letting banks have that kind of access to my money.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

I'd be the first to admit that I'm somewhat of a control freak. I don't like using giro transfers because I hate letting banks have that kind of access to my money.

I'm equally adverse to any organization that compels me to agree to things in exchange for its services--companies that use my identity card and mobile numbers to run their customer loyalty and marketing services, for instance.

And then, there are those that abuse their access to my credit card as an avenue to generate more revenue. Couple of days back, I went online to renew the subscription of my security software suite, which was about to expire.

When I was brought to the page to make payment for another year's subscription via credit card, it included a note that said my subscription will be automatically renewed again the following year when it next expires and payment directly charged to my credit card. This "consent" from me, as the security vendor described it, to automatically renew my subscription ever year was turned on by default and there wasn't any option for me to turn it off during the purchase process. I needed to make my payment first, and can only opt out of this feature after the security vendor confirms my order via e-mail, which will include instructions on how to remove the auto renewal function.

I was appalled, but decided to proceed with the payment because I assumed it would be easy enough to remove myself from this "service" and intended to do so immediately after the purchase was complete. Needless to say, things didn't quite work out that way.

First, I didn't receive any e-mail confirmation from the security vendor even though the payment was approved and charged to my credit card. So, there wasn't any information or link that I could click on to opt out of this auto subscription renewal "service".

I then promptly launched my security software and clicked on the Help section in hopes of getting some information on this. No such luck. There was nothing on subscription renewal.

Next, I logged into my customer account profile on the security vendor's site. There was plenty of information about how to manage my account, including changing my password and locating my product serial number, but nothing about subscription renewal. In fact, the word "renew" wasn't even mentioned once throughout the entire page. There was also no button or toolbar on the site that would allow me to easily opt out of the auto renewal.

No problem, I thought, I'll just search the Web and find the link--which I did. Uh-oh, problem...to cancel the auto renewal feature, I had to submit an "ongoing protection cancellation form" and fill in a series of required fields. These included my purchase order number that the company said would have been sent to me via the order confirmation e-mail, which, if you recall, wasn't actually sent to me by the security vendor.


So, last resort, I called the company's customer hotline and related the problem. As of now, they're still trying to resolve the issue because they were unable to locate my transaction order. Until then, I'm already toying with the idea of cancelling my credit card just so the company no longer has access to my account and I'm not forced into this ridiculous agreement...like I said, I'm a control freak.

My distaste for this auto subscription renewal feature isn't something new. The Web is peppered with complaints from customers griping about this forced subscription renewal that is now a common feature among most security vendors. In fact, such complaints date as far back as 2006, including one who noted how the security company continued to renew his subscription, charging the payment to his credit card, even after he opted out of the auto renewal feature.

Obviously, these security companies have done nothing since to address the negative customer feedback. And that, by my books, is unacceptable.

The security companies would tell you that the auto subscription renewal feature is for the convenience of their customers, so they don't have to worry about forgetting to renew their subscription when it expires, putting their computers unprotected and at risk.

Sure, that's their corporate line, but most consumers would recognize this as just one revenue-generating avenue for these companies.

Frankly, I have nothing against that. My computers need to be shielded from hackers anyway, and I'm more than happy to renew the services of security companies that can provide that protection. But, I want to do so on my terms as a paying customer--and not at the whim of a company that has no qualms about forcing me into an agreement just so it's assured of a yearly source of revenue.

One reason why I prefer to limit access to my personal information, and money, is that I often find banks and retailers unreliable and unable to follow instructions. I've had one too many experiences with companies that double charge me, or that refuse to stop deducting payment from my account even after I've terminated their service. And it's always a pain getting these companies to process the refunds and return my money.

So until companies can assure they're 100 percent reliable and able to follow their customers' instructions to the tee, their priority should be to provide customers with the ability to choose the type of services they want--and when they want it.

Isn't that a very basic level of customer choice?

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