FTC Sues Adobe for Deceptive Subscription Practices

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken legal action against software giant Adobe and two of its top executives, Maninder Sawhney and David Wadhwani, for misleading consumers about early termination fees (ETFs) tied to its subscription services. The FTC claims Adobe made it difficult for users to cancel their subscriptions without facing hefty penalties.

The Allegations

A federal court complaint, filed on June 17, 2024, by the Department of Justice after referral from the FTC, accuses Adobe of pushing consumers toward its “annual paid monthly” subscription plan without clearly disclosing the hidden costs. Consumers who canceled their subscriptions within the first year faced an ETF amounting to 50% of the remaining payments—a detail buried in small print on Adobe’s website.

David Wadhwani, president of Adobe’s digital media business, and Maninder Sawhney, an Adobe vice president, are named in the complaint. The FTC argues that Adobe has been aware of the confusion surrounding the ETF but continued to obscure this critical information.

Consumer Complaints and Obstacles

Many consumers complained to the FTC and the Better Business Bureau, stating they were unaware of the ETF or that the “annual paid monthly” plan required a full-year commitment. According to the complaint, Adobe was aware of these complaints but did not change its practices.

Consumers attempting to cancel their subscriptions encountered numerous hurdles. The FTC alleges that Adobe made the cancellation process unnecessarily complicated, requiring customers to navigate multiple web pages. When contacting customer service, users experienced resistance, delays, dropped calls, and multiple transfers. Some consumers reported being charged even after believing they had successfully canceled their subscriptions.

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Legal Implications

The complaint charges that Adobe’s practices violate the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act, which aims to protect consumers from deceptive online practices. The FTC voted unanimously (3-0) to refer the civil penalty complaint to the DOJ for filing. The Department of Justice filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Navigating Subscription Services

This case highlights broader issues in consumer protection, particularly regarding subscription services. Many companies have shifted to subscription models, promising convenience but often embedding hidden fees and complex cancellation processes. Consumers may find themselves locked into long-term commitments with costly penalties for early termination.

The FTC’s action against Adobe underscores the need for transparency in subscription agreements. Clear, upfront disclosures about fees and straightforward cancellation processes are essential for consumer trust. Legal actions like this serve as a warning to other companies employing similar tactics.

Implications of a Court Ruling Against Adobe

If the court rules against Adobe, it could face significant financial penalties and be required to change its subscription practices. This case could set a precedent, prompting other companies to reevaluate their subscription models to ensure compliance with consumer protection laws.

For consumers, a ruling against Adobe could bring greater transparency and fairness in subscription services. Companies might become more cautious in how they present and manage subscription plans, reducing the likelihood of hidden fees and complicated cancellations.

The FTC’s lawsuit against Adobe is a critical step in addressing deceptive subscription practices. This case emphasizes the importance of consumer rights and transparent business practices. As it progresses through the legal system, the outcome could influence broader industry standards, benefiting consumers nationwide.

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