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This month on Which? Conversation: May 2022

Welcome to our monthly open thread for May. Let us know your views on the latest consumer issues and news from around Which?.

We’re back after the long bank holiday weekend looking ahead to the month of May.

The cost of living crisis of course remains central to the agenda this month. Are you feeling the effect of the Ofgem price cap?

Which? is continuing to publish all its latest news and advice to help ease the financial pressure here.

Coming up this month

This month we’ll be publishing an experience of a real-life scam from the perspective of the intended victim, and bringing the latest features from the magazine’s ‘Your Which?’ section online.

Our legal advice column this month looks at your rights around repairs, while Scam Watch features a member bombarded by phoney ‘market research’ calls.

As always we’ll be picking up the latest consumer discussions as they happen. What do you think we should be covering on Which? Conversation in May?

Let us know in the comments.

Comments

Auto-Renewals

I have just completed a trial of Bitdefender and was looking to buy it but . .

I have been sent a ‘special price’ for 3 computers for 1 year. Looking on their site better offers are available but there are so many different offers for the same or similar products you have to ask why?

What I don’t like is their Auto-Renewal. If their product is good I will likely renew, if it isn’t I will look elsewhere, so it is up to them to keep me by giving me a product I am happy with.

It is unclear whether you get full product support and upgrades if you are not on a subscription. If I opt-out of a subscription renewal and a new version of the product is released, will I get the new version?

Subscription and renewal dates are open to interpretation depending which part of the site you look at:
– Is the renewal date 7 days before the subscription expires? If so, you have already paid for another year.
– Is the renewal date 7 days before they charge you for another year? If so that is 5 weeks before the subscription expires.

I am still looking at the various products, prices and their Terms Of Use, but going around in circles.

– Your subscription automatically begins at the purchase date

– By subscribing, you are purchasing a recurring subscription which will automatically renew

– You can cancel within 30 days

– You can opt out at any time.

– If you have agreed to permit Bitdefender to automatically renew your subscription to Bitdefender Solution by charging a valid credit card number which you have provided to Bitdefender, your subscription will be automatically renewed thirty (30) days prior to the expiration of the term . . .

– You will be notified by e-mail 7 days before the actual renewal takes place.

– IMPORTANT NOTICE. By using the Bitdefender Solution and accepting this Agreement You consent to receive, install and use any updates and upgrades to the software that will be transmitted by Bitdefender automatically. The functionality of the Bitdefender Solution can only be preserved during the Subscription Period if all received updates and upgrades are installed immediately following receipt. In case such updates and upgrades are subject to separate and additional subscription fees, BITDEFENDER will inform you about such fees in advance.

– Benefits that come with Auto-Renewal:
Free upgrades. You will automatically get the most advanced versions of your security solution once they become available, at no extra cost.

Which? mention none of this in their glowing review.

I am not keen on auto-renewal of subscriptions but at least Bitdefender do send out a reminder by email. Mine on 11 November to warn me that the subscription would end on 21 November. I take a computer when I’m away on holiday but if you don’t do this it’s work keeping a diary of when auto-renewals are due. I would prefer to pay by direct debit.

Hi wavechange,

If they tell you 10 days before the subscription ends, that means you have already paid?

Bitdefender appear to renew much the same as my old internet security – i.e. the renewal price is a lot more than just going on their website and purchasing the product.

Not exactly fair renewal terms are they, but at least with the old one I get a warning and it is up to me to decide whether I want to accept their renewal price or look for a better offer.

Hi Alfa, it’s common practice for most businesses to increase the price with auto-renewals and as you suggested, they will typically have taken payment and then advise you afterwards that the service has been renewed. Bit naughty really, but that is the downside of enabling auto-renewal.

If Bitdefender is your preferred option, I would just disable the auto-renewal, make a note of the renewal date and assuming you have been happy with the product, you can always negotiate with them if the renewal price has increased significantly.

I have used McAfee for many years now and especially like their customer service and support. An 0800 number gets you through to a person, should you ever need any help. My auto-renewal is disabled, but I do receive an email from McAfee when the service is due to expire. If the renewal cost has increased significantly, I call McAfee and negotiate a better price. I tend to renew for a 2 or 3 year period and in doing so, McAfee always offer an exceptionally good rate.

Some users complained the McAfee dashboard was not very user friendly, but I think this was perhaps several years ago, whereas the new dashboard is quite simple, easy to navigate, user friendly and it’s easy to check when the service is due to expire.

I’m now on my third subscription with Bitdefender, Alfa. I’m paying £31.99 for three machines and as the Which? review says, the cost of three licences is £24.99. Back in November when I renewed I do not remember there being this difference and I had a reason for not going for a longer subscription, which does save money. At least it’s not like the AA, which has been known invite members to pay twice the price they charge new members.

A computer came with McAfee already installed a few years ago. Once it was on there it wasn’t going anywhere if it could help it. Uninstalling only half-removed it and still prevented another internet security from working. It comes to something when a McAfee Removal Tool is required to get rid of it. Thanks Wingman, but because of that experience, I am in no hurry to go for McAfee again.

I am very happy with what I have been using for many years now, but in current times, you do have to consider cyber threats.

The AA does not force you to have auto-renewal and although I agree renewal prices are high, has always been open to negotiations.

I’ve checked and Bitdefender does provide an uninstaller. If you have tried it you will be aware that they do send some marketing emails.

Crusader says:
4 May 2022

If you want to remove any third party application software from your computer the windows program removal process doesn’t work, I learned that long ago. So if you want to uninstall any third party programs then you must use the program suppliers own removal tool, only then does it disappear completely, that’s what I advise friends to do, and I’m no expert but that’s what I’ve found out with removing programs.

It’s possible to cancel auto-renewal of Bitdefender: https://www.bitdefender.com/consumer/support/answer/29081/ The reason I have not done this is because I have not been caught out by any auto-renewal so far. Maybe if I do turn off auto-renewal I might be offered a better deal next November.

I have gone with Bitdefender and set a date to cancel autorenewal next year as it is unclear whether I will get the latest software updates if autorenewal is not set.

Syed says:
8 May 2022

After reading Bitdefender was rated highest by Which,
I purchased Bitdefender via its special offer and called customer services to ask how I can turn off the
auto-renewal. I did this and they will inform me before the renewal date.

No doubt, it is confusing to see the full price offers along with special price ones, seemingly both offering the exact same cover.

The need for an annual subscription to a service gives the vendor an excuse to increase the subscription as and when they like, and by how much they think the customer will bear. Monthly subscriptions are worse because they can increase at any time and more than once in the year. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to avoid them. I have four, two of which are monthly and one of these does send letters expressing the view that they are providing a great service, but need to charge more per month. Even so, keeping rates low is a top priority and they are doing you a favour by increasing the subscription by no more than ten percent. Each time one makes a judgement as to whether the service provided is worth the extra and what life would be like without it. My internet provider silently increases its monthly fee by a pound or so a few time in the year, and, if I had read the small print more carefully I would see that this is built in. How many of us want the hassle of unsubscribing and joining as a new customer to get a better price? How many will bother ringing to haggle about the current price? We should, but life is busy enough until one of them really rips us off. The AA did that to me and I left.

I would like to see an end to unfair price hikes for existing customers, Vynor. Now we are in a period of high inflation, price rises are inevitable but perhaps companies should be required to state explicitly that the price will be increasing more than the CPI. If a company hikes the price significantly I move elsewhere and then ring to say I am leaving. There is usually some protest and the suggestion that I should have rung to discuss the matter, in which case I say that they should have thought about the consequences of trying to rip me off.

On 31 March I received an email from Vodafone to remind me that my monthly charge would be rising by 9.3%. I was well aware that the cost would be rising because that was in the contract but perhaps it would have been better to issue the reminder two weeks before. I suppose I can forgive them because my contract has another year to run.

Several years ago, insurance companies were required to show the premium paid for the previous year and perhaps this should be extended to other service providers and subscription payments.

When we enter into a contract, service providers will make us stick to that contract and penalize us heavily if we don’t.

So why are service providers allowed to raise prices when we have jointly agreed to a contract? They might give you advance warning of an increase, but Sky for example won’t tell you what it is. If they put it up by a very unreasonable £1000 a month, would we have a leg to stand on?

I think Wavechange is being too kind to Vodafone. Although CPI increases are expected because they are written into the contract, it does not mean that Communications Providers (CPs) have carte blanche to do so.

OFCOM General Condition (“GC”) 9.6 says:

“The Communications Provider shall:

a) give its Subscribers adequate notice not shorter than one month of any modifications likely to be of material detriment to that Subscriber;

b) allow its Subscribers to withdraw from their contract without penalty upon such notice; and

c) at the same time as giving the notice in condition 9.6 (a) above, shall inform the Subscriber of its ability to terminate the contract without penalty if the proposed modification is not acceptable to the Subscriber.”

It then gives the following specific example where “material detriment” may occur:

“The subscriber agrees and enters into a 24-month contract for services on terms that the core subscription price will be £10 per month. The contract also contains a term to the effect that the CP may increase the agreed core subscription price by up to a certain amount, percentage or index-linked level (such as RPI).

Ofcom is likely to treat any exercise of the discretion to increase this agreed price during the fixed minimum term of the contract as a modification meeting GC9.6’s material detriment requirement.

Ofcom’s concern is with the application of price and price variation terms which give the CP discretion as to, for example, the possibility, amount and/or timing of a price increase. ”

I haven’t had time to research whether Which? have provided adequate guidance to members about what to do when faced with these increases due to the unprecedented levels of inflation we are now seeing.

Although I am not a legal expert in such matters, I believe that the bundling of a mobile device (as opposed to a SIM-only contract) does not invalidate the concept of “material detriment” and the CP must still give notice and provide an opt-out. It seems to me that everyone faced with a mid-term contract increase has certain OFCOM rights that they can use to negotiate a better deal or walk away.

My SIM-only contract is for two years, ending in May 2023. When I renewed it I listened to someone reading me the information about the CPI increase, which I was already aware of. Nevertheless, I agree that Vodafone should be complying with the rules.

Vodafone is not my favourite company and when the end of my contract is approaching I will be looking for one of the MVNO’s that uses their network – the one that offers the most reliable signal where I live. A friend who has a similar SIM-only contract is paying 26% more than me and has half the monthly data allowance. I will pass on the information about condition 9.6 (a), thanks. 🙂

Em says:
8 May 2022

Rocio Concha, Director of Policy and Advocacy, wrote in a recent Which? news article about Amazon taking legal action against fake review sites:

“The government has announced that it plans to give the CMA stronger powers to protect consumers from an avalanche of fake reviews. The inclusion of these measures as part of a Consumer and Competition Bill in next week’s Queen’s Speech [on Tuesday] is vital.”

The bill is also expected to see rules around subscription services and renewals tightened. We need Which? to focus on that as well, as a number of Conversation comments should have made clear, both here and elsewhere.

I would like to see the progress of this Bill being actively monitored and reported on by Which? and also provide us with an opportunity for Which? members to contribute to policy.

We risk certain unfair business practices being overlooked and the CMA having watered down powers,, if Which? and other consumer organisations are not totally on the ball. I will add one example as a reply below, so others can do the same if they wish. But hopefully, we will have a dedicated Conversation topic soon and the moderators can move these comments to a place where they won’t be shut down at the end of the month.

Em says:
8 May 2022

Here is one situation that might evade fake paid-for review legislation – that Amazon are already supposed to be taking action on according to Which? – if we are not careful.

In addition to Amazon “Customer” reviews on the product page, Amazon also host “Customer” questions and answers about a product. These are often related to size, suitability, compatibility with another product, or does it come supplied with [accessory]. It is quite common for genuine customer questions to be answer by the product vendor, which seems perfectly reasonable, as well as answers from consumers.

But it is apparent that some questions are endorsing 3rd party products and accessories, or are written as bait to allow a “customer” to then post a glowing recommendation. Some immediately draw suspicion as give a product description that goes beyond answering the original question put. They also seem to be upvoted more, as the most helpful Q&As.

The Amazon Echo Show 5 | 2nd generation (2021 release), smart display is a case in point:

Q. “I need a multifunctional stand, like the function of the phone and computer stand, hope the echo show in the future can have this function”

N.B. Amazon already make a stand for this product – so not clear on the reason for this question, other than to provide bait for the following two answers to the question.

A. “My ggmmES5 battery base is perfect for me to solve this problem, portable, power saving, adjustable angle”

A. “battery stand GGMM’s ES5 can satisfy you, and my show 5 can be used for both the first and second generations”

Did anyone above ask about “power saving” (it’s not!) or whether it works with both Gen 1 and Gen 2 Echos? Oddly, a question about microphone quality solicits the same type of answers.

Q. “Hope the microphones are better on this version. The last one was terrible.”

A. “And I thought the second would be better with another battery base, but it didn’t, so I bought ggmm’s ES5”

A. “Yes, at the same time, I am still very worried about his battery status. I have to charge it every 2 days on average. Later I bought a ggmm ES5 battery base. My first and second generation show 5 can be used, which is very power-saving.”

And these answers are considered more helpful than some answers about microphone quality! I could report these to Amazon, but if they are fulfilling this product on behalf of GGMM (which they are), there seems little point.

In summary, it is not just paid-for fake reviews that are misleading customers. These will slip under the radar, if the CMA is left toothless to deal with this kind of abuse. Where is the boarderline between fake reviews and endorsements, and misleading advertising? I don’t want to be dealing with the CMA and the ASA..

Rather surprised to read in the June issue of Which? a Which? senior researcher admitting to using another homeowner’s account to use Netflix. This is of course a breach of the Netflix subscription agreement. Presumably then Which? is happy to condone such a practice.