There are more than a thousand web hosts out there, and when competition is this fierce there are bound to be some sneaky tactics. In order to stay visible in a market where free web hosting is fairly common, some shady companies are doing anything possible to pull in customers. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), one web host—which will remain anonymous—decided to lure in new customers by offering a “Money Back Guarantee” if clients weren’t happy after 30 days. However, the fine print was fuzzy (and the FTC found that some parts were completely missing). Not only did some customers not get their money back when they weren’t happy within the 30 day window, some were even hit with cancellation penalties.
These cancellation fees varied customer to customer (another big problem), but at times were 30 percent of the upfront costs. Numerous complaints against this web host were filed, and the FTC stepped in because there were violations against the FTC’s .com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising publication. One of the biggest offenses was failing to mention that cancellation penalty in the host’s ads. There was a small mention of such a fee, but on digital print ads it was tucked away at the very bottom: “See Terms and Conditions for free…30-Day Money Back Guarantee and Uptime Reliability.” Unfortunately, the print was too small for some people to even read and it was written in blue on a black background—not the easiest to spot.
A New Kind of Clickbait
That “disclosure” was a hyperlink that led customers to a pop-up which prominently featured mention of a money back guarantee. The text also had a line that read “details of the cancellation fee can also be found here,” but according to the FTC it was not enough. Disclosing material information upfront and right away is the responsibility of all businesses, including web hosts. Plus, pop-ups read as spam and many people start clicking away as soon as possible.
In order to appease the FTC and complaints, the web host has promised to change how material limits and money back guarantees are explained. The company is also ordered to stop any and all misrepresentations about guarantees, cancellation fees and other such claims. This kerfuffle serves as not just a lesson for consumers, but also other web hosts.
Setting the Bar Higher
Web hosts are wise to read that FTC document on disclosures to see what the rules are for placement, font size, proximity to claims and font colors to ensure they’re abiding by the rules. There are also many helpful tips and guides in the document, including the usage of hyperlinks. It is not fair, and not legal, to “hide” contingencies in hyperlinks and hard to find locations.
For web host customers, it is best to go with a provider with a solid reputation and who is upfront about the terms from the start. If you find yourself going on a treasure hunt to gather information, or if you see that a web host has been caught up in legal woes, there are plenty of other fish in the hosting sea.