Antivirus software company Norton is being sued by the UK’s competition watchdog for refusing to provide information for an investigation into auto-renewing contracts.
It is the first time that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has taken a company to court for refusing to comply with legal obligations in a consumer protection case, and forms part of an investigation into the antivirus sector which began in 2018.
The CMA said that it has “identified a number of important concerns that Norton’s terms and practices for automatically renewing contracts could result in customers paying for services they no longer want or need” as part of the investigation.
When the agency requested relevant evidence from Norton, “including research undertaken by the software firm on how customers responded to website information on auto-renewal and pricing” the CMA said the company refused to provide it.
Andrea Coscelli, the regulator’s chief executive, said: “It is completely unacceptable that a leading anti-virus software firm has refused to supply all the information we asked for, which is why we’re taking the firm to court.
“Our unprecedented decision in this case reflects the serious impact of Norton’s refusal, which is delaying a CMA investigation intended to protect UK consumers.”
Rollover or auto-renewing contracts mean that at the end of a customer’s subscription period they are automatically renewed as a subscriber unless they actively try to cancel the contract.
The CMA said it is investigating whether Norton informs customers that this is going to happen before they enter into the contract and before it automatically renews.
In the spotlight is whether the company provides customers with adequate ways to cancel the automatic renewal, whether it has used price promotions that present a regular introductory price as a sale price.
The CMA is also investigating whether Norton uses unfair contract terms to increase the prices paid by customers when their contracts automatically renew.
The software is developed by NortonLifeLock, formerly known as Symantec, which sold its enterprise security software division to Broadcom for over $10bn (£7bn) in 2019.
A spokesperson for NortonLifeLock told Sky News the company was cooperating with the CMA’s ongoing investigation.
“We take these claims seriously and remain confident that our business practices and terms and conditions are fair and compliant with UK consumer law. We look forward to resolving this matter,” they added.