With several new state laws effective in 2022, it is becoming increasingly difficult for businesses to develop baseline compliance protocols across federal and state automatic renewal laws.

Against this backdrop, federal and state regulators continue to examine the sales practices of companies that sell products and services on an automatically renewing basis; states continue to pass new laws—and strengthen existing laws—that further embolden private plaintiffs and class action lawsuits; and the card brands have imposed increasingly strict requirements on companies offering products and services on a negative option basis.

Here we break down the compliance challenges posed by varying state laws addressing automatic renewal programs (also known as continuous service, continuity, subscription, or negative option programs), how newer card brand rules further stir the pot, and the low-hanging fruit that law enforcement agencies and private plaintiffs are going after for monetary redress and injunctive relief.

Continue Reading State Automatic Renewal Laws Are Starting to Look Like a Patchwork Quilt as the FTC Expands Enforcement of ROSCA

This week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a proposed settlement with MoviePass to resolve allegations that the company offered an automatically renewing movie subscription program but blocked paid subscribers from using the advertised services, and failed to adequately secure subscribers’ personal data.

The FTC brought the case against MoviePass under the Restore Online Shoppers Confidence Act (ROSCA), the federal statute governing online negative option programs. The statute requires sellers to clearly and conspicuously disclose all “material terms of the transaction” and obtain consumers’ express informed consent before charging them for online negative option features.

However, the FTC’s complaint did not take issue with the company’s billing disclosures or consent mechanism. Instead, it asserted that the company’s failure to disclose its deceptive tactics that prevented subscribers from accessing all of the advertised benefits violated ROSCA. In the complaint the FTC alleged that MoviePass, Inc deceptively marketed a MoviePass subscription service that allowed customers to view movies at local theaters for a monthly fee. However, once customers purchased a subscription, MoviePass allegedly used various methods to prevent subscribers from accessing the advertised service. For example, to limit the movies that customers could view, MoviePass allegedly blocked account access by invalidating subscriber passwords under the guise of “suspicious activity or potential fraud.” The FTC asserted that resetting a password was cumbersome and often failed, precluding subscribers from regaining access. Next, the FTC alleged that MoviePass’s operators implemented a ticket verification program that required users to submit pictures of their physical movie ticket stubs for approval through the app within a certain time frame after purchase. Users who failed to submit their ticket stubs would be blocked from viewing future movies and could risk subscription termination. Third, MoviePass allegedly used “trip wires” to block certain groups of subscribers—heavy users who viewed more than three movies per month—from using the service to purchase more tickets. These allegations seem to echo statements from the FTC’s Dark Patterns workshop (we blogged about the workshop here), which discussed ways the FTC should address websites and apps that impair consumers’ autonomy, decision making, and choice.

Continue Reading Lights, Camera, Action! FTC Settlement Signals Novel Use of ROSCA

Risk-Free-TrialAs we’ve mentioned before, and as this year is unfolding, it looks like the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) is even more desperate to enforce the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (“ROSCA”) than we are to find good skin care products.  The FTC has begun expanding its enforcement of ROSCA into various industries, including now the skin care industry.  Perhaps more importantly, the FTC is increasing the stakes on what constitutes adequate disclosures, forcing many marketers to spend less time looking in the mirror and more time looking at their online disclosures.

Last week, the Central District of California entered a Temporary Restraining Order and the FTC issued a complaint, alleging that since at least 2010, a number of defendants had marketed and sold skin care products on a variety of websites that ran afoul the ROSCA, the FTC Act, and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (“EFTA”).  Continue Reading Court Attempts to Smooth out ROSCA Violations

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC” or “the Commission”) has clearly subscribed to enforcing ROSCA recently.  On Tuesday, the FTC filed a complaint against DIRECTV’s negative option program and contract pricing structure under Section 5 of the FTC Act and ROSCA.

In the complaint, the FTC alleged that DIRECTV required customers to agree to a mandatory 24-month contract to receive television programming; customers who canceled their subscriptions before 24 months were charged an early cancellation fee.  Although the rates were set at a specific monthly charge for the first year of a 2-year customer agreement, in the second year of the agreement, the FTC alleged that DIRECTV would increase the monthly charges by 50-70% higher than customers paid in the first year.  After the first year of the agreement, customers either had to pay significant cancellation fees or pay the higher monthly price.   Continue Reading FTC Dishes Out ROSCA Complaint with Focus on Disclosures

Most of us are familiar with the pleasant experience of an arranged date or a blind date: dining under the romantic glow of the Golden Arches, learning about a day in the life of Muffin, her pure-bred Persian, or perhaps “going Dutch” on the check when all the fun finally ends.  Add to the mix online dating sites—virtual exchanges of love interests, complete with lists of mostly aspirational hobbies, and yes, user photos from ten years and twenty pounds ago.  When you sign up for an online dating service, you expect these subtle (or not so subtle) misrepresentations from other users.  What you don’t expect is the dating service doing the same—for example, by sending flirtatious notes from made up profiles.  That’s exactly what the FTC alleged last week in its second Restore Online Shopper’s Confidence Act (“ROSCA”) case ever, in which the FTC settled with a dating site for posting fake user profiles in an effort to persuade customers to sign up for premium services.

Continue Reading In Second ROSCA Case, FTC Finds Dating Site Too Clingy

A free trial of a weight loss pill is the best of both worlds, right?  Not according to the FTC, which recently brought its first Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA) case against a group of marketers who advertised exactly that.

Weight loss substantiation is old territory for the Commission.  ROSCA, however, is not.  The FTC’s first ROSCA case, filed in Nevada district court, alleges that health companies made unsubstantiated claims that their dietary supplements would lead to weight loss, muscle building, virility, and improved skin.  More significantly, however, are the allegations surrounding the marketers’ “free trial” and “buy-one-get-one free” offers.  According to the FTC, the companies collected customers’ debit and credit card information in order to enroll customers in a negative option (subscription) program.  While there is certainly nothing wrong with subscription programs on their face, the FTC alleges that the companies here inadequately disclosed the nature of the program – they never clearly told customers their accounts would be charged each month.  ROSCA prohibits marketers from charging customers in an Internet transaction unless the marketer has clearly disclosed all of the material terms of the transaction and obtained customers’ express informed consent. In this case, according to the FTC, the marketers did not provide the required disclosures for a negative-option program before accepting payment; failed to disclose material facts about their refund and cancellation policy, among other facts; and didn’t give customers a simple, effective way to stop the automatic charges.

Continue Reading FTC Says Companies Have a Fat Chance of Getting Away With Deceptive Online Marketing in First ROSCA Case

Mastercard recently announced new requirements for merchants using a subscription billing model or negative option model, or both.  The new standards focus on disclosures made to consumers at the point of payment; providing adequate confirmation, notices, and billing receipts; and affording customers an online or electronic cancellation method.  Requirements relating to point of payment disclosures become effective on September 22, 2022.  The other requirements will become effective much sooner, on March 22, 2022.  As always, reconciling card brand requirements with current federal and state legal requirements and law enforcement priorities will take particular care and attention, particularly as laws in California and other states continue to evolve.

The Mastercard updates, like those imposed by other card brands, are intended to reduce complaints and chargebacks from consumers who might not understand they were enrolled in an automatic renewal subscription or negative option program (or who do not understand the billing terms), forgot they enrolled, or have difficulty canceling their subscriptions.

As we summarize below, the new Mastercard requirements apply to merchants using subscription/recurring billing models, including programs that charge a consumer for goods or services on a prearranged schedule (such as streaming video services, membership clubs, and software licenses).  Mastercard included certain additional requirements for negative option programs, where the merchant offers an initial free or discounted trial period of a subscription before automatically enrolling the consumer into the subscription, and the consumer must take some action to cancel before the end of the trial to avoid continuing with the subscription. Continue Reading New Mastercard Requirements for Subscription and Negative Option Billing Models

With Halloween just days away, it is perhaps fitting that the FTC has issued a new enforcement policy statement warning companies not to employ dark patterns to trick customers into a subscription plan. As we covered previously, the FTC has identified dark patterns—or website design features used to deceive consumers—as a priority for both rulemaking and enforcement actions. The timing of the announcement is a bit curious as the FTC is in the middle of a rule making on negative option marketing. More below from Commissioner Wilson on that.

The enforcement policy statement in many ways reflects the requirements of the Restore Online Shoppers Confidence Act (ROSCA) and established FTC precedent regarding negative option marketing. The FTC has been active against companies who hide their subscription programs behind links, have made customers undergo several attempts to cancel their subscription, or companies who failed to disclose that the benefits of their subscription did not exist anymore.

Continue Reading FTC Issues Dark Forecast for Dark Patterns in Subscription Auto-Renewal

The laws and regulations surrounding subscription-based offers continue to change on a regular basis. Federal and state regulators and private plaintiffs continue to lodge challenges against companies selling products and services on a recurring basis. Moreover, new cases and law enforcement activity offer evolving interpretations on how to comply. Given the substantial developments, companies offering products or services on an automatically renewing basis should take heed.

The primary federal regulator of autorenewal programs, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), remains as active as ever in enforcing the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA), the federal statute governing online negative option programs. The FTC has filed multiple new lawsuits against companies selling products and services on a negative option basis and continues to litigate cases that it has filed.

The district attorneys in the California Automatic Renewal Task Force have also continued to bring actions at a furious pace, demonstrating their clear intention to pick up where the FTC has left off. In fact, the task force recently filed a lawsuit in California state court against Match.com, even though the FTC had already filed a lawsuit against the company. The California district attorneys also announced settlements with Classmates.com, Home Chef, CheckPeople.com, and Care.com, among other companies, and the consent decrees have imposed increasingly stringent requirements on the settling businesses.

Continue Reading Automatic Renewal Programs: Latest Updates

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in AMG Capital Management v. FTC. As we’ve previously discussed, the Supreme Court is set to decide whether Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, which expressly grants the FTC the right to obtain “a permanent injunction,” also grants the FTC the authority to obtain “equitable monetary relief.” During oral argument, certain Justices expressed doubt that the plain language of Section 13(b), when viewed in the context of the entirety of the FTC Act, authorized the FTC to obtain “equitable monetary relief” when proceeding under Section 13(b). While none of us can predict the future, after last Wednesday’s oral argument, we can’t help but wonder: What will happen if the FTC loses? Below, we have outlined the potential avenues for the FTC if the decision doesn’t go its way.

First, Congress could revise the language of Section 13(b) to allow the FTC to seek equitable monetary relief, a request the FTC made in October 2020. There’s precedent for such a move. After the Supreme Court significantly curtailed the SEC’s calculation of equitable monetary relief in Liu, Congress codified the SEC’s authority to seek disgorgement in federal district court as part of the 60th annual National Defense Authorization Act in January 2021, by amending the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Congress could pass a similar amendment to the FTC Act to unambiguously allow the FTC to obtain equitable monetary relief under Section 13(b) or otherwise. Whether that potential authority would come with a statute of limitations, allow for joint and several liability, or be subject to other restrictions will be important in assessing any potential legislation.

Continue Reading So…What If the FTC Loses <em>AMG Capital Management v. FTC</em>?