Adobe Stock Photos Dark Pattern

How “obligation free” turns into cash.

Greetings from the Couch
Sep 3 · 7 min read

I signed up for an ongoing account with Adobe Stock photos late last year for a web design project.

I took the “obligation free” 10 assets per month subscription listed on the Plans page:

The project has been over for a few months and so I thought I’d cancel the account which was pulling just under $40AUD/month.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this blast from the past.

An actual honest-to-god cancellation fee on an online account.

Why is this a dark pattern?

The cancellation fee panel says this:

As part of the original subscribed agreement, this fee will apply if you cancel now and end your annual commitment early. Learn more.

To which I say What agreement?

Let me demonstrate

Here’s the page I used to sign up:

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Click the Start Now button and off you go!

But in the interests of being completely clear, I’ll open the Pricing page to see what else is available:

Lots of plans here, lots of words, nothing about a cancellation fee. Not even when I click the TEENY-TINY information button.

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No mention of a cancellation fee here, either.

And in the Frequently asked questions there a “What if I cancel my plan?”

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No cancellation fee there either.

There’s something on the signup page then?

So here’s the signup page for the 10 assets per month plan:

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The terms of use button down bottom left.

No mention of a cancellation fee, but there is a Terms of Use page which opens here:

The only place in here that makes any reference to a cancellation fee is:

11.1 Termination by You. You may stop using the Services and Software at any time. Termination of your account does not relieve you of any obligation to pay any outstanding fees.

In addition, while they say the agreement doesn’t overrule Australian Consumer law…

13. Australian Consumer Law. Nothing in the Terms is intended to exclude, restrict or modify any consumer rights under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) (CCA) or any other legislation which may not be excluded, restricted or modified by agreement. If the CCA or any other legislation implies a condition, warranty or term into the Terms or provides statutory guarantees in connection with the Terms, in respect of goods or services supplied (if any), our liability for breach of such a condition, warranty, other term or guarantee is limited (at our election), to the extent it is able to do so: (A) in the case of supply of goods, us doing any one or more of the following: (1) replacing the goods or supplying equivalent goods; (2) repairing the goods; (3) paying the cost of replacing the goods or of acquiring equivalent goods; and (4) paying the cost of having the goods repaired; or (B) in the case of supply of services, our doing either or both of the following: (1) supplying the services again; and (2) paying the cost of having the services supplied again.

They then go on to say if they can’t fix something in 30 days after a complaint, binding legal arbitration will be entered into, which for me would involve a court in Singapore.

14.1 Process. If you have any concern or dispute, you agree to first try to resolve the dispute informally by contacting us. If a dispute is not resolved within 30 days of receipt by us, any resulting legal actions must be resolved through final and binding arbitration, including any question of whether arbitration is required, except that you may assert claims in small claims court if your claims qualify. Claims related to the Terms, Services or Software are permanently barred if not brought within one year of the event resulting in the claim.

14.2 Rules. If you reside in the Americas, JAMS will administer the arbitration in Santa Clara County, California pursuant to its Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures. If you reside in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, mainland China, Hong Kong SAR of China, Macau SAR of China, Taiwan region, South Korea, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal or a member state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), then the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) will administer the arbitration in Singapore under its Rules of Arbitration, which rules are deemed to be incorporated by reference in this section. Otherwise, the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) will administer the arbitration in London under the LCIA Arbitration Rules. There will be one arbitrator that you and Adobe mutually select. The arbitration will be conducted in the English language, but any witness whose native language is not English may give testimony in the witness’ native language, with simultaneous translation into English (at the expense of the party presenting the witness). Judgement upon the award rendered may be entered and will be enforceable in any court of competent jurisdiction having jurisdiction over you and us.

Now I’m no lawyer, but this is clearly Getting My Cake And Smearing It In My Face territory.

Back to the cancellation fee then

There’s a Learn More link on the “Fee to cancel” panel, which leads here:

And halfway down the page there’s a heading for Cancellation Fees and Refunds, which opens another page: Understanding Creative Cloud Subscription Terms and Policies.

And finally we hit paydirt:

Annual plan paid monthly: After 14 days, a cancellation fee of 50% of the remaining balance of your contract obligation may apply. Your service will continue until the end of that month’s billing period.

And that’s why it’s a dark pattern

We start with no indication of a cancellation fee on the Plans & Pricing page.

There’s no mention on the signup page.

There’s no mention anywhere UNLESS I try cancelling a plan, in which case, I have to jump down two additional pages to actually find out a piece of information that should have been provided up-front.

And the Australian Competion & Consumer Commission agrees:

And I quote:

Single pricing

When prices are advertised or promoted, products and services must clearly display a ‘single price’, which is the minimum total cost that is able to be calculated. This should include:

all taxes, duties and extra fees

the price of all aspects of the final product and service.

From 26 October 2019, the single price should include any optional fees or charges pre-selected during booking or purchase, unless and until you de-select them.

They have a more detailed page here:

And this is based on Section 48 of the Competion and Consumer Act 2010.

But wait, there’s more!

Remember in the Terms & Conditions where it said this:

14.1 Process. If you have any concern or dispute, you agree to first try to resolve the dispute informally by contacting us

Okay, let’s try contacting Adobe about this. Back to the Account, BatBloke!

The Cancel Plan page provides no additional links. There’s no contact links at top or bottom, just what you see on the page (screenshot, above).

If I click Previous, I end up back at the “Why are you cancelling” page, full of checkboxes, and similarly bereft of a Contact Us link.

So I cancel the cancellation, which is what they actually want. And back on the My Plan page, there’s also no additional links. So I have to back out of that too!

It’s only on the Adobe Account page I can click a HELP link and then get to talk to someone.

The phone number is an 800 number, which is the US. Useless.

There is no email address. Only a chatbot that may refer me to a human being somewhere in the world.

We start with the bot that gives me one of the Cancel Account links, but then is kind enough to refer me to an alleged human.

Waiting… waiting… waiting…

I’ll sign off now and update if and when I get more information.

What’s next?

Let’s go! > Onward to Part Two!

Disorderly Instruct

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