The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has inked a deal with Norton where it will refund customers whose antivirus software subscription was automatically renewed.
Today's agreement comes after the regulator launched legal action against Norton in March – a first for a consumer protection case – when the company refused to furnish the CMA with the information needed during the course of the investigation. It also arrives hot on the heels of a similar arrangement with McAfee
Andrea Coscelli, CEO at the CMA, said:
"The changes Norton has committed to, following our action, will make it easier for customers to get their money back if their contract renews when they don’t want it to.
"Coming just weeks after the commitments secured from McAfee, it also sends a clear message that the CMA will not hesitate to take action where it believes companies are using auto-renewals unfairly.
"We’re pleased that Norton’s commitments mean we no longer need to go to court to enforce our information request. However, firms should be in no doubt that we are ready to take this action in the future, if they fail to provide the information we need to pursue our investigations."
In May, Norton reported [PDF] a 9 per cent jump in year-on-year revenue to $672m for Q4 of fiscal 2021 ended 2 April. Its direct customer count increased by 2.8 million to 23 million.
The changes being made by Norton include giving customers whose subscriptions have been auto-renewed the ability both to break the contract and to seek a refund for the remaining months. This has been backdated to include customers who were refused a refund in 2020. Norton must also contact customers who have not used their products for more than 12 months with instructions for disabling auto-renewal or ending their contract and getting a refund.
Additionally, the refund process has been simplified, and in terms of the deal, Norton must provide clearer upfront pricing information that includes telling consumers when a second year will cost more than the first.
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The announcement comes after a lengthy investigation by the CMA into some of the sharper practices at work in the antivirus industry. Many consumer devices come preloaded with such software, which then goes on to bombard customers with nag screens. More generally, signing up for such contracts has tended to be considerably easier than getting out of them.
The CMA kicked off its investigation in 2018, but the undertakings of Norton and McAfee have now brought things to a close.
They do not, however, "reflect either an admission by the Companies of liability or wrongdoing," according to the watchdog. Since legal action has now been called off, it is unlikely that a court will make that decision any time soon.
Norton sent us a statement:
"NortonLifeLock is pleased to reach an agreement with the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that reflects our ongoing commitment to improving the customer experience. We continually strive to put our customers first and remain confident that our practices are fair and compliant with UK consumer law. We look forward to continuing to help protect and empower consumers to live their digital lives safely." ®