There are Unfair Practices rules and enforcement capability in all jurisdictions. Perhaps the most accessible and relevant terms for many are in the EU Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices. This Directive, dating to 2005, can be found here.
Law makers face challenges in addressing “Fairness”. Generally, laws and those who enforce them focus more on setting out what might be considered unfair and, therefore, open to enforcement action.
The ODA has seen value in guidance from regulators on how to avoid seeming to be unfair in dealing. The advice says:
- Respect your customer’s interests – don’t use terms you wouldn’t like to sign up to yourself
- Avoid ambiguity – ensure that your terms are not open to many different interpretations
- Be open and fair – don’t hide important wording or use ‘small print’ that might surprise or mislead your customer
- Use ordinary words and avoid legal jargon or technical language. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer.
- Consider whether terms describing the contract’s main subject matter and those setting the price are brought to the customer’s attention early enough in the process as well as being easy to understand
- Take particular care with terms that could seem to work against your customer, for example, terms that:
- limit your liability if things go wrong
- transfer risks to your customer that they can’t control
- allow you to make changes to the contract
- allow you to keep deposits and advance payments
- impose financial sanctions on your customer (eg cancellation fees)
- automatically renew your customer’s contract
In June 2018, the UK Competitions and Markets Authority completed a review of the online dating sector and published guidance specific to the sector. These start to set out how the general terms of the EU Directive might effect dating services. The CMA’s list of “Do’s and Don’ts” can be read here.
Few, if any, regulators or jurisdictions seek to treat dating services differently from others when it comes to the principle of auto-renewal which is a recognised and allowable activity. They do, however, look at what might be considered proportionate in individual cases. They may take the view that few people sign up to dating services on a truly ongoing basis; as they might with a telecoms or financial services provider.
Based on this feedback we believe good practice with dating services is that any auto-renewal arrangement that has a term in excess of six months should include a reminder notification two to four weeks before the date at which renewal would take place. Clearly, this “good practice” is superseded in any market where specific rules have been made.