US Government Sues Adobe Over ‘Convoluted’ Cancellation Process

The US government, acting on a referral from the Federal Trade Commission, filed suit against Adobe on Monday for reportedly making its subscriptions confusing and costly to cancel. The suit alleges that Adobe, among other things, hides the existence of an early termination fee when users sign up for the annual subscription plan, revealing the fee only when a subscriber tries to cancel. Adobe’s products include Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat Reader and others.

“During enrollment, Adobe hides material terms of its APM plan in fine print and behind optional textboxes and hyperlinks, providing disclosures that are designed to go unnoticed and that most consumers never see,” the suit reads, referring to Adobe’s “annual, paid monthly” plan. “As part of this convoluted process, Adobe ambushes subscribers with the previously obscured ETF when they attempt to cancel,” the suit reads, referring to the early termination fee. “Through these practices, Adobe has violated federal laws designed to protect consumers.”

Adobe didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Customer-service call issues

Large parts of the lawsuit are redacted, but it outlines other activities whereby Adobe allegedly gave customers the runaround instead of helping them cancel subscriptions. In one instance, subscribers had their calls and chats with customer service representatives either dropped or transferred, the suit said. This causes them to have to explain their issues repeatedly when reconnecting. 

The suit also alleges that Adobe continued to charge some customers even after they thought they’d successfully canceled their subscriptions, and that it didn’t offer refunds. Most complaints leading to the lawsuit were logged by the Better Business Bureau and the FTC. 

“Adobe trapped customers into year-long subscriptions through hidden early termination fees and numerous cancellation hurdles,” Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “Americans are tired of companies hiding the ball during subscription signup and then putting up roadblocks when they try to cancel. The FTC will continue working to protect Americans from these illegal business practices.”

What does this mean for Adobe users?

For the time being, existing Adobe users can do little other than wait for the lawsuit to move forward. Adobe’s subscription terms and cancellation policies remain intact as of this writing, as does the company’s refund policy and Adobe’s how-to guide on canceling your subscription.

I went through most of Adobe’s cancellation process to see if an early termination fee was still being applied, and according to the company, it would cost me $143.96 to cancel my existing subscription. 

A screenshot showing a warning that Adobe will charge a 50% cancelation fee.

A warning about a cancellation fee.

Joe Hindy/CNET

The lawsuit comes a week after users noticed Adobe’s most recent changes to its terms of service, which granted the company near-limitless access to customers’ existing projects. Users of Adobe products objected because the changes gave Adobe access to any file stored on its cloud servers, including content protected by things like nondisclosure agreements. 

Adobe responded that the new terms were in the name of content moderation and removal of illegal content, especially in the face of generative AI that can fake people’s likeness in images and audio.

Adobe eventually rolled back some of the changes and further clarified its terms of service, specifically regarding the policies around Adobe’s AI.