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By | Dan Goodin 11th June 2009 00:39

Symantec, McAfee cough up $750,000 on auto-renewals

'Hide the ball' suspended

Symantec and McAfee have agreed to pay $375,000 apiece to settle charges they charged fees against customer credit cards without authorization.

Under a settlement announced Wednesday by New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo, the antivirus software makers also agreed to more clearly disclose any automatic renewal fees and provide a transparent and automated way for customers to opt out of them.

The agreement by the world's two biggest antivirus providers caps an investigation by New York's top law enforcer that found they failed to adequately disclose to consumers that they would be automatically charged to renew software subscriptions once they expired. A press release issued by Cuomo's office described the practice as "hide the ball."

"Customers have a right to know what they are paying, especially when they are unwittingly agreeing to renewal fees that will not appear on their credit card bill for months," the release went on to say.

Automatic renewals are generally a good thing, since they ensure there are no gaps during which updates to virus definitions aren't available. But they're also good for the companies' bottom lines because fees are automatically charged months after a purchase was originally made. And it's all the better if the customer has a hard time opting out of the renewal, as Cuomo's office alleged.

Cuomo's office claimed the companies charged renewal fees to customers "without their knowledge or consent." This seems to be an exaggeration. Elsewhere in the release, it says notice of the fees was "hidden at the bottom of long webpages or in the fine print of license agreements."

In any event, both companies will notify customers before and after the renewal deadline and will provide refunds for those who request them within 60 days of being charged. The companies will also be clearer about the length of time they will continue to provide support and updates for their software. ®

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