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Fear for your credit card, not for your data

By Jean-Claude Elias - Sep 07,2017 - Last updated at Sep 07,2017

The chief reason why some people — a minority, certainly — still fight the trend to go full steam ahead in the IT cloud is the fear to see their data stolen, lost, hacked or misused. And yet, there are other reasons that make working online a nuisance. I am thinking of one of them more particularly: the way they handle online subscriptions, and the associated renewal and payment processes. From unfair practice, to downright deception, unethical attitude and time-consuming processes, it is not always a pleasant ride.

Whether it is a one-time purchase or a yearly subscription, most if not all online services want you to create an account, enter a lot of data and provide credit card details. Some will offer a free trial period, but will still ask you for your credit card details from the onset, “just in case” you decide to extend the trial period to a fully paid subscription. And you only find out after you spend long minutes painstakingly entering personal data!

Most of the antivirus software and e-mail hosting companies will automatically put you on “auto-renewal” mode. This means that after the first subscription period is over, they will automatically debit your credit card. You may notice the auto-renewal feature or you may not. If you do notice, some of the services will give you the option to go and untick the box so as to disable the auto-renewal; whereas one would expect such option to be turned off by default, and not the other way round.

The worst case of auto-renewal I have encountered, yet, is with the antivirus subscription by a well-known company, which name I will avoid mentioning here. There was no way for me to turn off the auto-renewal on the account by browsing the account on the website, and I had to call the company’s customer service on the phone. I was told that disabling this feature was not possible online but that they can do it for me, since I cared enough to call. When I confirmed that this is what I wanted they did not do it immediately, not before asking the usual annoying question: “Why? Wouldn’t you reconsider?”

There is worse. Some will ask you for your credit card details on the phone, which of course is against all known and accepted practices in terms of security. They do not necessarily mean or plan to misuse the info, but…

If what you are buying is software, you may want to deselect all automatic payments, if given the possibility to do so. Except in cases where you fully trust the seller, and automatic payment for updates of the software is really more convenient for you. Just remember that updates are frequent.

Among the online services that I found to behave very ethically when it comes to payments and renewals, and as examples only, I can mention Amazon, GoDaddy, Microsoft, Google, PayPal, Netflix and beIN Sports. To be fair I must say that almost all the big players in the cloud behave ethically. After all their reputation, and therefore their business, is at stake. They are too smart not to behave!

 

Perhaps a last, small advice from someone who handles countless online accounts and subscriptions of all kinds. Remember that it is a real market out there, just like the real-life physical market you may go to in downtown Amman for instance. Yes, bargaining is the word. With some online services, you can call them on the phone, tell them that you are considering renewing or buying more options, and that a nice discount would really be welcome. You would be surprised to see how many would respond positively, even if such discount usually remains within the limited 10 per cent to 20 per cent range. Unfortunately, not all such services provide customer support over the phone.

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