Recently I had one of those experiences that most of us have endured, the 'auto-renewal' subscription appearing on our credit card statement with no warning. You know that service that you never used and had no intention of renewing, but because you never got a renewal email you simply forgot to cancel and then whammo, there's a big bill on your credit card.

So my experience involved a free trial, that turned into a 3-month subscription. I didn't end up using it but I forgot about the three monthly billing. When I tried to cancel, I was told that I had missed the cut off date by two days to cancel my subscription. And even though they canceled the service, their policy didn't allow for a refund - so I'm actually paying for a service I don't get which is, of course, a whole other issue.

Plus, the company made it very hard to find account information on the site, making it virtually impossible to cancel anyway. I know that this is a very deliberate marketing strategy - which is just wrong.

I have a major problem with auto-renewal done in a way that I feel is ethically questionable. It's a sneaky way to get people to keep paying, especially when it starts as a free trial that automatically turns into a paid service with no request asking if you want to make the transition.

The auto-renewal without an email asking the customer if they want to renew a particular service might be legally OK, but is it ethically OK? Who can remember renewal dates for all of our subscriptions these days? I think it's disgraceful.

I have another service that I subscribe to and I have for several years. Two weeks before every annual renewal, I get sent an email asking me if I want to continue. If I do, I don't have to do anything, the company will automatically charge my credit card. If I don't want to continue they make it very easy to cancel.

This to me is both ethically correct and legally correct on every level. And it shows a company that is confident with what it delivers.

The company that does what I call the sleazy auto renewal lacks confidence in customers renewing, which says pretty much everything that needs to be said. Whilst what they do might be legal, it is certainly unethical, as previously stated.  

For me, from now on, I'm refusing to buy any product or service that is on auto-renew that doesn't give me the option to quit at any time or that doesn't send renewal notices by email. As a business how we get money from our customers says a lot about us and I have no doubt that in time the laws will change around auto-renewal because they need to.

Smart businesses are already doing the right thing, those that don't need to take a long hard look at themselves because their customers will soon say enough is enough and leave. And rightly so.