Fighting unwanted subscriptions shouldn't be so exhausting

A mouse cursor hovering over a subscribe button

Fundamentally, this column is dedicated to the topic of software. But before I get there, please put the popcorn in the microwave and settle in your most comfy chair, but please remember to fetch your popcorn.

I was most pleased – even delighted – to have not one but two Lenovo laptops to play with over the final six months of 2023. Great screens, superb performance, and a chance for a curmudgeon like me to catch up with Windows 11. Eventually, there came a point where I was fully signed in using my Microsoft account from way back, and needed to use one of these machines to write a document or two.

Merely clicking on the Word icon got me going. It wasn’t until I happened to check my email that evening that I spotted a cheery little note from our Redmond friends.

“Welcome to Microsoft 365! Thanks for taking out a home user subscription: you now have three licences, so you can enjoy Microsoft 365 on all your home computers. We will be taking $44 from your PayPal account, because you once used it to pay off your Microsoft account’s outstanding balance, several years ago.”

I paraphrase, you understand.

Being preoccupied, I forgot all about this presumptuous, ill-informed bit of twaddle – a situation that didn’t last once I started seeing notices coming in from PayPal to the effect that a quasi-anonymous entity called Tilia, Inc had been debiting my account.

It took some sleuthing to figure out that I was the victim of a coincidence. For some strange reason, just as the over-ambitious Office subscription started, so my previous payment to a “payment platform for game publishers, metaverse creators, and NFT providers around the world” had shifted to a different payee. I discovered this just in time to save some poor Microsoft rep from receiving my purple-faced-rage script, targeted at whichever bit of the organisation had arbitrarily decided I should pay for a three-machine licence in order to use a word processor.

While I enjoy a good old gripe as much as the next person, my reaction to the difficulties with Microsoft membership and payments was based on several observations and incidents over the nearly 15 years I’ve had this account. The simplest, least harmful of these was that being a serial abuser of every type of hardware I can lay my hands on, I quickly reached the semi-secret Microsoft ten-machine limit on non-business sign-ins.


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Device number 11 couldn’t log in until one of the lucky ten had been signed out. As frustrating, undisclosed and arbitrary numbers go, this isn’t likely to affect many regular users. I’m just one of those crazy nerds with almost 40 computers in my basement, after all.

It is, however, the tip of an iceberg of non-disclosure – a cavalier attitude to the customer. I didn’t realise I had been invisibly limited until I had a busy and climactic day in a desktop population replacement exercise: not a helpful way of exposing a limit.

Especially so when you want to load up some extra apps bought on your account because the customer needed a lot of persuading to do things “the right way”, after many years of incomplete licences, mix-and-match online logins and local security. I had extracted quanta of blood, sweat and tears persuading them to do the right thing. So you can imagine my reaction to the “surprise, surprise” licence alert.