Dark patterns aren’t illegal, but they by design are there to make the behaviour a business wants to achieve easy and the ones they want you to not so. My old gym, for example, will let you sign up online, over the phone and in person. But if you want to cancel you have to show up by appointment with your membership and go through a kind of exit interview. All designed to put you off.
While it’s not nice, it’s not illegal. But sometimes companies push this all the way, they hide behind dodgy terms and conditions to punish unsatisfied customers. It’s bad business sense in the first instance but many businesses get away with it.
I signed up to callready.co.uk – Seemingly cheap, with ‘no minimum contract’ and not a sniff of penalty for leaving. That is until you get to the terms, but actually no not in the terms in a document that is referred to in the terms that you have to request, via e-mail which they don’t provide in the terms.
A nominal fee is payable to Dolphin for termination of this Agreement particularised in the Price List.
In the terminology at the top they wrote:
“Price List” means Dolphin’s list of prices and charges from time to time (exclusive of VAT) which shall be available to the Customer upon written request to Dolphin.
So what is wrong here. Well, it’s not made clear in the journey. Typical of most businesses hiding the bad stuff. But What makes this worse is they’ve used misdirection in the contract itself.
- Taking a plain English ‘Price list’ and applying special terms to it.
- Then taking the word nominal and not defining that.
- Hiding terms outside of the contract itself, it would be fair to consider static fees as part of the terms.
As consumers we’re covered to some degree under the unfair contract legislation and guidance. But we all know that when it comes down to the crunch it’s little you vs big them and to fight it would cost more than the penalty.
It’s all designed to keep you in check. You consider the cost vs benefit and opt for the easy way out – pay up. The mafia operates like this all be it with harsher consequences.
Adobe have a similar model, those who wish to cancel even into their second year get penalised with a cancellation fee that represents 50% of the outstanding 12 month period you are in.
I would mention my old gym by name, but they have gone bust – I’m hardly surprised.
Gas and electric companies can charge radically different fees to disconnect from one organisation to another. It begs the question what is legislation really doing to empower the consumer. They claim to make switching providers in the utility industry easy but it is actually incredibly difficult.
Legalities of what people consume in terms and conditions are usually the place these unscrupulous businesses hide because it’s hard to spot them and even harder to fight back if you’ve fallen foul of it.
My best advice, if you have fallen foul, is find mistakes in the terms, challenge those and if it doesn’t get resolved the civil money claims service we’re working on at the MoJ is making it easier than ever before to make a claim.