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The US sues Adobe for its subscription practices: Is Adobe trying to swindle us?

Is Adobe trying to fool you into yearly plans and early termination fees? Let's look into it.

Published onJune 18, 2024

Adobe Lightroom mobile open in many devices
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
  • The US DOJ is suing Adobe over harming customers and not correctly disclosing important terms.
  • It claims Adobe’s yearly commitment isn’t clear enough to consumers.
  • Adobe also makes canceling subscriptions very complicated and charges an early termination fee.

Lawsuits have become so common in the tech industry that we are no longer surprised by them, and today, Adobe seems to be the new target. This lawsuit is more unique, though, as this time, the United States Department of Justice is suing the software company famous for applications like Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere, Acrobat, and more.

The US DOJ filed an official complaint today, blaming Adobe for a few things. For starters, it claims that Adobe “has harmed consumers” for years by not being clear about its plan terms. More specifically, it’s referring to the Adobe Creative Cloud subscriptions that operate as “Annual, Paid Monthly.”

It is argued that these terms are only clearly stated when the customer tries to cancel, “turning the stealthy ETF [Early Termination Fee] into a powerful retention tool.” Additionally, Adobe is suggested to be hiding this information in small text, or behind optional links that are easy to miss, and the cancelation itself is a very convoluted process.

Let’s look deeper into Adobe’s website and the claims

There is no denying that the new subscription business model is annoying. But offering subscription services isn’t the same as swindling customers. So, I went on a dive to find out what the Department of Justice was talking about. I started by looking at the website.

When I try to purchase an Adobe Creative Cloud plan, this is the main page I encounter:

Adobe plan buy page

My first thought was that I could clearly understand this is a yearly plan. I have no doubt in my mind that I am signing up for a whole-year commitment that just happens to be charged monthly. That said, I can be considered a “techie.” Maybe other people are getting confused? It also doesn’t help that the ‘Yearly, Billed Monthly’ plan is selected by default. I still think the premise is pretty clear, though.

Then, I went digging into the complaint document to look for other clues about the problem. Apparently, the biggest issue is with the free trial menu. The text that implies the plan is a year-long commitment, is smaller and less bold. Additionally, the options to change the plan are smaller, and the information regarding the early termination fee is hidden. It is also harder to access on a touchscreen, which many subscribers use. It’s a tiny “i” icon that is harder to tap.

Here’s how the 7-day free trial page currently looks:

Adobe free trial page

Now that I look at this page, I can see what the Department of Justice means. The plan selection options are much easier to ignore here, and the highlight is on the price, not the term period of the subscription. The ‘Annual, Paid Monthly’ option is also selected by default, so many users may rush through the process and just hit ‘Continue.’ This is a trial, after all.

We feel customers are often less careful when signing up for these, as the idea is to cancel if they are not convinced to continue the membership. Some people may leave the default option to start playing around with Adobe’s software as soon as possible. And the “I’ll deal with it later” may often turn into an “I forgot about it.”

Adobe knew its website was confusing!

As if all of this wasn’t enough, the DOJ also blames Adobe for knowing about these common confusions and not attempting to fix them. The document mentions this is a common complaint in the Better Business Bureau, social media, and Adobe’s own support pages. Apparently, customers have long and frequently complained about being confused about these terms and not knowing they were signing up for a yearly plan. Many also didn’t know about the existence of an early termination fee. Despite this being a common issue, Adobe continued its arguably deceitful practices.

If successful, the United States is “seeking injunctive relief, civil penalties, equitable monetary relief, as well as other relief.” We have to wonder, how many of you have signed up for an Adobe plan without knowing it was a year commitment? I work with this software daily, so I never tried to cancel. Did you ever run into these issues?

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