Definition

The user signs up for a free trial on a website, and in doing so they are required to enter their credit card details. When the trial comes to an end, they automatically start getting billed for the paid service. The user is not given an adequate reminder, nor are they given an easy and rapid way of cancelling the automatic renewal.

Sometimes this is combined with the Sneak into Basket dark pattern (as alleged in the Vistaprint class action lawsuit.).

This dark pattern was previously known as “Silent Credit Card Roll-over” but was renamed since the term “forced continuity” is already popularly used in Marketing.

 

Example: audible.com (May 2010)

Audible uses a variation of the Forced Continuity dark pattern. When a user adds monthly billed items to their basket and proceeds into the checkout process, Audible fails to show that the items listed are not a one-off fees, and will in fact reoccur every month.

Step 1 of the Audible.com check out process. Note how it hides the fact that the charges reoccur every month

Step 3 of the Audible.com check out process. Note how it hides the fact that the charges reoccur every month

Thanks to @simonw for submitting this example.

Update (October 18th, 2010)

Audible has always been about the experience of listening – so, we take constructive criticism very seriously. When we heard that some listeners have found our check-out process less than clear, we took it upon ourselves to refine the wording of our offers and clarify our recurring billing practices. We appreciate simonw bringing to our attention the “forced continuity” impression we seem to have made. I will post again once we have completed the changes. We invite the Dark Patterns community along with simonw to review our changes. Open communication is the core of our business and we want to make sure we hear our listeners as well as they hear us.

Audible, Inc

Update (October 2010)

The Audible.com example shown above was originally logged in early 2010 and is now out of date. In October 2010 Audible updated their UI and they are no longer employing the Forced Continuity dark pattern.

Example: Microsoft

In order to sign up for XBox Live, you can do it conveniently at any time with a web browser or through your XBox 360. In order to unsubscribe, you cannot do it on your xbox or online. You must call them.

Alleged Example: creditexpert.co.uk

Some commenters have suggested in this blog post that creditexpert.co.uk uses the Forced Continuity dark pattern, in which a free trial silently rolls-over into a monthly paid service unless the consumer intervenes.

Credit Expert Homepage

The Google Instant Autocomplete tool implies other people have experienced this issue.

 

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