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Brit watchdog shows some teeth over McAfee antivirus auto-renewals

Refund rights for customers

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has reached agreement with antivirus vendor McAfee that means some customers whose software subscription was automatically renewed will be able to get a refund.

The deal follows a lengthy investigation into the antivirus sector that kicked off in 2018 amid concerns that "some firms in the industry may not be complying with consumer law."

It's quite the slap on the wrist for McAfee, whose software tends to be bundled with a large number of devices sold in the UK. Customers who signed up with the company may not have understood the ins and outs of auto-renewal, hence the CMA action.

Under the arrangement, the process for turning off auto-renewal "will be made more straightforward for customers in the future," said the regulator. Anyone already renewed will be entitled to end their contract and get a refund for the months remaining. Significantly, that refund right will be backdated for customers that were refused a refund in 2020.

Additionally, McAfee has been instructed to make its pricing clearer (including the part about year two pricing being higher than the price paid when the antivirus product was first purchased.) It must also make instructions on turning off auto-renewal and getting refunds clearer on its website.

The Register asked McAfee for its take on things and the company told us:

"McAfee is pleased to have reached agreement with the CMA on our shared goal of improving the ease, fairness and transparency of business-to-consumer practices and policies. Our work with the CMA aligned with our efforts to enable customers to maintain ongoing protection while retaining control over their McAfee subscription."

Antivirus rival Norton has also come unstuck at the hands of the CMA's investigation and was taken to court in March for "refusing to provide certain information for an investigation into auto-renewing contracts."

We asked the vendor for its take on the fate of McAfee and its own court case, but it has yet to respond.

While we have no doubt Reg readers will be well aware of what comes preloaded on their laptops (and the implications of signing up for a contract or replacing it with an alternative) other buyers may not be so familiar.

However, the sheer ubiquity of McAfee's products (a glimpse at the most inexpensive of Dell Inspirons shows customers needing to opt out of having McAfee's's products preinstalled) means many may have simply opted to register without realising the full implications of auto-renewal. We have asked Dell to comment on this.

The requirement to make this clear with an easy-to-find opt-out could have far-reaching consequences as other vendors ponder deals sweetened by a cheap first year followed by a subsequent quiet price hike. ®

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