It’s easy to get overloaded by subscription services with recurring renewal fees. But it’s typically way harder to get rid of them. Some companies or publications (we’re not naming names here) don’t offer a simple way to cancel a subscription. In some cases, customers are required to call and speak with a representative, who will often try to talk them out of cancellation or try to upsell them something else.
If the US Federal Trade Commission has its way, it might soon get much easier to cancel subscriptions.
The FTC proposed a new regulation this week that it’s calling the “click to cancel” provision. It would require companies that offer subscription services online to make canceling them as easy as it is to sign up in the first place. As the name implies, any service that you can sign up for by clicking a button on a webpage or in an app should give you a similarly easy way to cancel it.
The click-to-cancel rule is one step of the FTC’s proposed changes to the Negative Option rule, a measure enacted by the agency in 1973 that aimed to tamp down on predatory business practices. For example, the rule says a company cannot charge for unordered products or take a customer’s lack of response as an affirmation that they want to continue paying for something.
The FTC already voted to pass the regulation. It will be made available for public comment online with the Federal Register. Based on those comments, the FTC will then make a final decision about the rule’s fate in the coming months.
Hey, by the way, did you know that if you subscribe to WIRED you can cancel anytime?
Here are some other developments in the consumer tech world.
In other good maybe-a-law-soon news, the European Union is proposing legislation that would require many electronics manufacturers to make repairs available for their products for up to 10 years after selling them. It’s a move aimed at reducing waste and disincentivizing planned obsolescence, the practice of creating a device that will last only a few years in order to force the customer to buy a new one. If enacted, companies would be required to repair products for free if doing so would be less expensive than replacing the broken or defective product with a new one. The law would affect many household consumer devices like TVs, dishwashers, and vacuum cleaners. Other rules being drafted separately would apply specifically to phones and tablets.
The EU has been on a bit of a repairability tear the past couple of years. Its decisions to enforce repairability measures have rippled outward and led to companies like Apple and Samsung implementing repair programs in the US.
New Framework PCs
Speaking of repairability, the repairs-focused company Framework has announced a new line of laptops. The company’s machines are intended to be upgradable and easily fixable if anything goes wrong. The computers are built with a modular system that lets you swap in just about any type of port, plug, or component.
There are two new 13-inch laptops coming, one fitted with Intel’s 13th-generation processor and the other with AMD’s Ryzen system. A beefier gaming model will have a 16-inch screen and be able to mix and match keyboards and dedicated graphics cards. Building on its modular system, the laptop will also work with Framework’s expansion system that lets users slap full-size graphics cards onto the back like a gigantic dongle.
The 13-inch models will start at $849, and Framework says they will start shipping in May. The company has not announced a release date or a price for the 16-inch model.
A Visit to TSMC
Semiconductors are everywhere. They’re tiny—literally smaller than the fingernail of your pinky—and they’re inside all of our devices. They’re also constantly getting smaller, faster, and better. The biggest player in the chip industry is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, located just south of the island’s capital of Taipei. In addition to keeping the tech industry afloat, TSMC is also caught smack in the middle of the geopolitical standoff between China and Taiwan. China has long insisted that Taiwan is its territory, and the specter of it invading is always looming over the island. But for China to do so would put TSMC out of commission, stopping the flow of tech that China—and nearly every other country—depends on. It’s a strange stalemate that partly hinges on TSMC’s ability to be the very best at placing microscopic transistors onto mega-powerful chips.
This week on Gadget Lab, WIRED contributor Virginia Heffernan joins the show to talk about seeing the face of God at a TSMC facility and why the semiconductor is so important in maintaining both the gadget world and global stability.