Customers of antivirus company McAfee will be able to end their contract and seek a refund if it auto-renews - including customers who had refund requests refused in 2020 - following action from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
The move, which is voluntary on McAfee's part, follows intelligence gathering by Which?. One of the many checks we carry out as part of our antivirus reviews involves the auto-renewal process, and we report any issues that arise.
Read on to find out what happened, and how you can avoid being stung by auto-renewal.
Antivirus and VPN software services often entice you in with a super-cheap annual subscription, which auto-renews after a year at a much higher price. This is often more than double what you paid for your first year.
If you forget to cancel your automatic subscription renewal, you either have to take it on the chin, or brace yourself for a long and arduous call with customer services to claim a refund, without any certainty that you'll actually get one.
Many antivirus companies don't let you turn off auto-renewal when you sign up. So not only are you signing up for a one-year subscription, but you're also agreeing to be billed again in a year's time. It's often not until your subscription is active that you can go into your account settings to turn off auto-renewal.
The CMA has been looking into this for several years with the help of intelligence gathered by us. Most recently it's managed to get one of the biggest players - McAfee - to make it easier to find and cancel automatic renewal, and also offer partial refunds on unwanted subscriptions that renewed automatically more than 60 days prior to cancellation.
Previously, if a product automatically renewed and you didn't take action within 60 days, you would not be entitled to a refund. Now, you will be entitled to a refund based on the time remaining on the subscription. So if there are still nine months to go on your annual subscription, you would get three quarters of your subscription cost refunded.
This right to refund will also apply to customers who had refund requests refused in 2020.
The CMA has stressed that McAfee's policy changes are entirely voluntary, but consumers can be hopeful of other companies following McAfee's lead and making it easier to cancel subscriptions.
Beyond testing the security and performance of antivirus packages and VPN software, we also check companies' behaviour regarding their subscription renewals.
Some companies, such as F-Secure and Kaspersky, let you switch off auto-renewal before you subscribe. Others, such as Surfshark, don't let you turn it off, and make you talk to customer services to do so.
Norton has a 'protection promise' that entitles you to a refund if your computer is affected by a virus while using the software, but only if you have automatic renewal on at the time.
The easiest way to guarantee avoiding the sting is only to subscribe to packages that let you turn off automatic renewal at the buying stage. Otherwise, ensure you get automatic renewal switched off as soon as you can by creating a proper account with the antivirus service, with a password you can remember.
There's no harm in turning off automatic renewal. The software will continue to work for entire subscription period, and don't let it worry you with warnings about not being protected - you'll be fully protected right up until the very last day of your subscription. Plus you can all but guarantee that with less than a month to go until the end of the year, the company will start reminding you to renew or resubscribe.
This is also a great time to get yourself a deal. In all likelihood, if you hold out long enough you'll get an email offering you a discounted price. Just make sure that when you subscribe again, you keep automatic renewal switched off.
Also keep in mind that you can avoid buying from the antivirus companies directly. Retailers such as Amazon, Currys and Argos sell standalone antivirus packages that last for a year. As buying this way means an antivirus company doesn't have your payment details, there's no way for it to auto-renew your subscription once it's up for expiry.