Cancelling Streaming Subscriptions: The Maze of Dark Patterns and Proposed FTC Rules

Streaming services have become an integral part of our entertainment landscape, offering a wide array of content at our fingertips. However, ending your subscription with some platforms can often feel like navigating a maze.

Recent incidents, like the one experienced by Ward Council with Netflix, have shed light on the challenges consumers face when trying to cancel their subscriptions. In this article, we’ll explore the complexities of canceling streaming subscriptions, the issue of “dark patterns,” and the proposed FTC rules aimed at protecting consumers.

The Netflix Conundrum

Ward Council’s experience with Netflix is all too familiar to many subscribers. Initially, he attempted to cancel his Netflix account, receiving a confirmation email that it would end on a specific date.

However, just a few days later, he received an unwelcome surprise – a welcome email notifying him that his membership had been restarted without his consent. This frustrating cycle repeated itself multiple times, leading him to consider involving his credit card company.

Understanding “Dark Patterns”

In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took action against Disney and Amazon for what they referred to as “dark patterns.” Dark patterns are manipulative user interface designs that make it challenging for users to make choices against their best interests.

These patterns often come into play when attempting to cancel subscriptions. While not unique to any particular company, they create confusion and frustration for consumers.

The FTC’s Proposed Solution: Click to Cancel Rule

To address the issue of dark patterns and protect consumers, the FTC introduced the proposed “Click to Cancel” rule in 2021. This rule aims to make canceling as simple as subscribing. In other words, companies would be required to provide a clear and easy cancellation process, without hidden barriers or misleading tactics.

Consumer Response and Industry Criticism

Over 16,000 people have submitted public comments to the FTC regarding the proposed rule. While consumers largely support the idea of making cancellations more straightforward, an industry group expressed concerns. They argue that implementing such a rule would create frustration and unnecessary burdens for consumers.

The Path Forward

As of now, there is no set timeline for when a vote on the “Click to Cancel” rule may occur. The FTC continues to gather input from both consumers and industry stakeholders. Chuck Harwood, the FTC Regional Director, encourages consumers to report instances where they believe they’ve encountered deceptive dark patterns in the cancellation process.


The challenge of canceling streaming subscriptions is a widespread issue that has affected many users. The experiences of individuals like Ward Council highlight the need for clearer, consumer-friendly cancellation processes. While the proposed “Click to Cancel” rule from the FTC offers a potential solution, it also faces criticism from industry groups.

As the debate continues, the hope is that a balance can be struck between protecting consumers from dark patterns and ensuring that companies can manage their subscription services effectively. In the meantime, consumers are encouraged to be vigilant, report issues, and explore avenues to protect their interests when dealing with subscription cancellations.

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