A California woman filed a class action lawsuit on Wednesday alleging that the New York Times has been violating California law by automatically renewing consumers’ subscriptions without proper authorization and making it “exceedingly difficult” to cancel existing subscriptions.
Under California’s Automatic Renewal Law, online retailers using automatic re-enrollment systems are required to obtain affirmative consent to the “clear and conspicuous” terms of the offer and to also provide an “easy to use” mechanism for cancellation.
The complaint, filed by Maribel Moses and others similarly situated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claims that the Times never presented the renewal offer terms in the requisite “clear and conspicuous manner,” charged consumers “without first obtaining their affirmative consent,” and failed to provide a proper way for subscribers to cancel.
“As a result, all goods, wares, merchandise, or products sent to Plaintiff and the Class under the automatic renewal of continuous service agreements are deemed to be ‘unconditional gifts’ under the ARL,” the lawsuit stated.
According to the lawsuit, the Times has been preventing discontent subscribers from cancelling their subscriptions by employing an abstruse mechanism that users are unable to understand, which the complaint refers to as a “dark pattern.”
“Defendant’s recent growth in revenues and subscriber count with respect to its digital NYT Subscriptions coincides with a sharp decline in subscriber satisfaction as the NYT Website and App have become riddled with ‘dark patterns.’ A dark pattern is ‘a process design that requires several complex procedures to do simple things,’” the lawsuit stated.
“For instance, although one page of the NYT Website states that consumers can cancel their NYT Subscription via chat, ‘[t]he chat facility is only available in-office hours (07:00 AM-10:00 PM) on weekdays and 07:00 AM-03:00 PM on weekends[, and] most of the time and days, their chat facility is unavailable due to excessive chat from customers[.]’”
The complaint then lists examples of user complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and Customer Service Scoreboard, all of which reported severe difficulties when attempting to cancel delivery and online subscriptions.
The lawsuit also alleges that plaintiff Moses had attempted to cancel her subscription on several occasions without success, even emailing the Times’ PayPal subscription address and relaying her desire to cancel, but she never received a response and her subscription remains active.
The suit asks the court to award plaintiffs actual, compensatory, and punitive damages, and issue an injunction preventing the Times from continuing the practice.
The New York Times defended its practices in an email to Law&Crime.
“We are confident that our marketing and subscription practices fully comply with California law and the laws of other states,” said Danielle Rhoades Ha, a Times vice president for communications. “We take seriously our commitment to deal openly and fairly with our subscribers and to provide effective customer service.”
Read the full complaint below:
[image via YouTube screengrab]
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