Adobe sued by US government for concealing termination charges

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a complaint against Adobe on June 17 for “deceived” consumers by hiding early termination fees. The complaint was filed in a California court, after notification and referral by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a government agency responsible for monitoring consumer law.

Hidden fees that represent up to 50% of the monthly payment amount

The FTC accuses the publisher behind Photoshop and InDesign software of having pushed consumers to subscribe to its most lucrative subscriptions, particularly annual ones, and of having lacked transparency by not communicating to them the conditions of use and termination . “Adobe trapped its customers into annual subscriptions using hidden early termination fees and numerous cancellation hurdles”said Samuel Levine, director of the consumer protection bureau at the FTC.

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When a user wants to sign up for a subscription, Adobe redirects them by default to their “annual paid monthly” subscription plan. The software company displays the monthly cost of the month-to-month subscription, but does not communicate the early termination fee (ETF), which represents 50% of the remaining monthly payments when a customer cancels before the end of one year . The FTC also accuses Adobe of having made it difficult to read the conditions relating to these fees, by including them in small print on its website where “requiring consumers to hover over small icons to find information”behind optional text boxes.

Adobe finally used these cancellation fees as a pretext to dissuade users from ending their subscriptions. Particularly tedious termination processes for customers, who are “forced to go through many pages” and face resistance and delays if they contact customer service. “Consumers are also experiencing interrupted calls and chats, with multiple transferscontinues the company. Some consumers who thought they had successfully canceled their subscriptions said the company continued to bill them.”

A lack of transparency in updating the T&Cs

The software publisher attracted the wrath of many users a few weeks ago, when it updated its general conditions of use. Customers had received notification that Adobe could “access (their) content through automated and manual methods”. In detail, the company specified that “techniques such as machine learning” could be used to analyze the content and improve its services.

Adobe then intervened to say that it would not train Firefly – its generative AI tool – on clients' content, and that it would not claim ownership of their work. A blatant lack of communication, which only reinforces the crisis of trust between Adobe and its customers. The firm is, however, committed to restoring its image: “We are committed to being a trusted partner for the content creators of the futureshe wrote on her site. We will work tirelessly to achieve this.”

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