Friday, 18 November 2022

FTC Hits Vonage with $100 million Hammer for "Dark Patterns"

On November 3, 2022, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission fined Vonage $100 million for “dark patterns” to be paid to consumers. The tricky issue has been defining what exactly is a "dark pattern."  The FTC Press Release describes the "dark patterns" as:

  • Eliminating cancellation options: Despite allowing its customers to sign up for services online, over the phone, and through other venues, the complaint alleges that starting in 2017, Vonage made the decision to force customers to cancel only by speaking to a live “retention agent” on the phone. The complaint notes that this practice runs counter to Vonage’s own advice to its clients not to “frustrate customers by requiring them to contact you for support that should be available on a self-service basis” and that “[i]t should be just as easy to return your product as it is to buy it.”
  • Making cancellation process difficult: In addition to forcing customers into one cancellation method, it made that method difficult. The company created significant cancellation hurdles, including by making it difficult to find the phone number on the company website, not consistently transferring customers to that number from the normal customer service number, offering reduced hours the line was available and failing to provide promised callbacks. The complaint cites one internal Vonage email saying customers were “sent in a circle when they want to downgrade or remove the service.”
  • Surprising customers with expensive junk fees when they tried to cancel: In many cases, customers who are able to access the cancellation line are told they will have to pay an unexpected early termination fee that was not clearly disclosed when they signed up for Vonage service. In some cases, these fees were in the hundreds of dollars.
  • Continuing to charge customers even after they canceled: Customers who managed to speak to an agent and request cancellation often found that their accounts continued to be charged. Even when they contacted Vonage to complain, they received only partial refunds of the money they were charged without authorization.

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