Responsible Design Part 5 of 14: Forced Continuity

Forced continuity is when your credit card continues to get billed and charged for a subscription service past the initial subscription duration.

Stuti Mazumdar & Symran Bhue

How this pattern gets its name?

This dark pattern gets its name when we look at the discretionary point of view of the user. In forced continuity, the user finds it very difficult to exercise their discretion to discontinue service. This happens because the process of actually ending the subscription is unknown, complex or lies at the discretion of the company which extends the subscription in the first place.

 

How to identify this pattern?

This dark pattern can be covert, restrictive and deceptive when the user is trying to initially subscribe to a service. After the subscription is active, this pattern is restrictive and hides information. The metric being prioritised is retention.

This dark pattern can be observed on a subscription-based service where the user is required to enter their credit card details to opt-in and most likely forgets to opt-out once the trial period is complete. This pattern manifests itself in two ways – either the user will find it next to impossible to delete their account/subscription or the user will notice that their credit card is being secretly charged full-price every month for a service they thought they’d subscribed to for a specified duration at no or discounted charge.

 

Examples

MUBI is a London-based curated film streaming service founded in 2007. It was launched in India in November 2019. When it was launched, it offered its three-month subscription at INR 199 ($2.8 in 2019), after which the full charge of the subscription would cost INR 499 ($7 in 2019). Once you subscribed to MUBI for three months and forgot to opt-out – it continued to charge its subscribers INR 499 every month. Many users got notified by their banks when their card was charged and not by MUBI before processing the payment post the three month subscription period.

What’s more is that if you go to the MUBI website to cancel your subscription, you would typically find it under the ‘Account’ section but there is no ‘Account’ section in the menu. If you click on the profile, it shows you the list of movies you’ve watched, your followers, users you are following, etc. The next intuitive step is to click on ‘Settings’ where again there is nothing on the default ‘Account’ page but you will find a link to cancel your subscription on the ‘Subscription’ sub-menu if you scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen.

Again, there is no option to cancel the subscription through the mobile app. It shows the subscription plan but doesn’t show the unsubscribe option.

 

How to make it an ethical design pattern?

There are 3 simple ways to make an ethical pattern that helps retain one’s customers. One is a transparent onboarding process for the users. Basically, letting the users know during the initial subscription period that it will be auto-renewed at the end of a stipulated period. Two, notify the users when the subscription is ending and allow the users to renew the subscription as opposed to auto-renewing for them. And three, provide an easy cancellation process that doesn’t involve the user jumping through hoops, sending out numerous emails, making phone calls to customer care or navigating through complicated user interfaces to cancel a subscription.
Stuti Mazumdar

Stuti Mazumdar

Experience Design Lead at Think Design, Stuti is a post graduate in Communication Design. She likes to work at the intersection of user experience and communication design to craft digital solutions that advance products and brands.

Symran Bhue

Symran Bhue

I am a Digital Marketing Strategist by profession and an Artist by interest. An IT Engineer, an Artist/Design enthusiast and an MBA in Strategy and Finance, I understand things from Technology, Design as well as Business perspective.

 

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