Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why class-action lawsuits are a ripoff -- for everyone but the lawyers

I've been using Norton Anti-Virus from Symantec ever since the day I got my first computer (1995). I've always been satisfied with it -- except for one thing.

When you buy the software, it comes with a "subscription." That means you've paid for "free" updates for (usually) one year. This is essential with this kind of software, because it's reactive -- new viruses come out, and new updates address them.

So if you bought the product on April 29, 2008, for example, your subscription is good through April 28, 2009. And when your subscription expires, you can renew and upgrade over the internet, so you're never without up-to-date anti-virus protection.

Sounds good right? But here's the thing: buy a Symantec product on April 29, 2008, and renew/upgrade over the internet on, say, March 29, 2009, and that's when your new one-year subscription starts. Not April 29, 2009. See, Symantec doesn't wait until your old subscription runs out before renewing; it just starts a new subscription.

So if you renew a month early (and Symantec starts sending you renewal notices well ahead of time), Symantec takes away a month of service that you've already paid for. The sneaky bastards.

That happened to me once. I lost a whole month of service that I'd paid for. I thought about switching to McAfee or AVG after that, but I was otherwise satisfied with the product and I hate change, so I still use it. I just wait until the day my subscription's expired before renewing. ("Fool me once...") And, obviously, that experience absolutely killed any goodwill I'd felt towards Symantec, the sneaky bastards.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and Symantec got sued for ripping off its customers like that. Apparently, enough people sued for the case to morph into a "class-action lawsuit."

A couple days ago, I received an e-mail telling me that Symantec had settled the case. Here are the main terms of the settlement.

1. Each ripped-off person gets either $2.50 in cash or a $15 voucher towards purchase of a Symantec product.

2. The three main plaintiffs (and don't ask me why they're the lucky ones) get $5,000 each.

3. Symantec has to put up a statement on its subscription renewal pages saying that upon upgrade the old subscription ends and a new one begins. Note that A) they don't have to phrase this in terms of people losing something they already paid for and especially B) they don't have to stop ripping people off, they just have to sort of tell them that's what they're doing.

4. The law firm that "represented" us ripped-off people gets up to $2,275,000 in costs and fees.

Lovely system, isn't it?

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