UK watchdog takes Norton to court over auto-renewing contracts

Norton antivirus logo displayed on a smartphone

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is taking antivirus provider Norton to court after it refused to provide certain information for an investigation into auto-renewing contracts.

Following an investigation into the antivirus software sector, the CMA established a number of concerns around Norton’s terms and practices for automatically renewing contracts as this could result in customers paying for services they no longer want or need.

This led the CMA to request information from Norton, such as research carried out by the firm on how customers responded to website information on auto-renewal and pricing. Norton, however, refused to provide some of this information.

The CMA will now use its powers to enforce this request through the court. This is the first time the watchdog has needed to take this step in a consumer protection case.

Andrea Coscelli, CMA chief executive, said: “It is completely unacceptable that a leading antivirus 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.”

During the case, the CMA is investigating a number of aspects including whether Norton provides customers with “adequate ways” to cancel the automatic renewal or if it uses unfair contract terms to increase prices paid by customers when contracts automatically renew.

A NortonLifeLock spokesperson told IT Pro: "NortonLifeLock has been cooperating with this ongoing investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into our industry since December 2018. 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."

The CMA is actively investigating the antivirus software sector following concerns that some firms in the industry may not be complying with consumer law. This investigation was launched in December 2018 and then updated in June 2019 when the watchdog said it had written to “a number” of antivirus companies as it was worried about their practice of automatic renewal subscriptions. It also revealed it had written to 16 other antivirus firms to review some of their practices.

In January, the CMA opened an investigation into Nvidia’s £30 billion acquisition of Arm to see what effect the deal will have on the UK market.

Furthermore, in December, the CMA urged the government to create a legally binding code of conduct to regulate digital giants. It highlighted that the UK needs new powers and a new approach, including a modern regulatory regime.

Zach Marzouk

Zach Marzouk is a former ITPro, CloudPro, and ChannelPro staff writer, covering topics like security, privacy, worker rights, and startups, primarily in the Asia Pacific and the US regions. Zach joined ITPro in 2017 where he was introduced to the world of B2B technology as a junior staff writer, before he returned to Argentina in 2018, working in communications and as a copywriter. In 2021, he made his way back to ITPro as a staff writer during the pandemic, before joining the world of freelance in 2022.