Surfing on the free trial wave – New app cancels free trials by the end of subscription period.

On: September 23, 2019
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About Laura Schäfer


A new feature within the DoNotPay app launched this September and promises to cancel free trials before they run out and cost customers a lot of money.

In a world in which streaming- and subscription services have become part of our daily lives, free trials are used as the most common marketing strategy for companies to win new clients (Zelong et. al 116).

While free trials give us a great opportunity to get to know a service, software or platform before making a purchase, they can be deceitful. Many people find themselves lost and caught in the free trial jungle and forget to cancel it, which usually leads to a subscription to the service that can cost a lot of money (Grant).

Digital subscription services are part of our daily lives. Whether we use streaming platforms such as Spotify or Netflix, dating apps, meal services or individual offers designed to match our taste, everything is now available online. A new study in the United States shows how American residents spend billions of dollars every month on different kinds of subscription services. Most Americans also underestimate their yearly expenses on those services – 84 percent do not know how much money subscriptions cost them a year (Moogimane).

A major disadvantage is that once a customer subscribed to a service, it is not very easy to get out of it. Usually, it takes time for a customer to make that decision which, again, can be very expensive. “By the time people realize they don’t want [a service] anymore, it takes time for them to cancel it, said Larry Chiagouris, a marketing professor at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University in New York” (Jayakumar).

Luckily, there is finally an app which can solve this consumer problem. A new feature within the DoNotPay App, which first launched in 2015 and was invented by Joshua Browder, automatically cancels a customer’s subscription when the free trial period comes to an end.

How it works

Every customer receives a virtual credit card, CVV and fake user name to be able to sign up for a free trial service. The card is registered to the firm DoNotPay so the customer is not responsible for the cancellation of the free trial. It also does not work for any other kind of transactions. An unnamed bank cooperates with Browder on this project, which makes a wide range of virtual banking details possible. The customer can also choose to generate a fake e-mail address which is linked to DoNotPay so the private e-mail address is secured. Any e-mails by the services which the customer is signed up to will be forwarded to his private account (Kleinmann).

The DoNotPay App was primarily used to successfully fight parking tickets. Browder referrers to his app as the first chatbot which appeals parking tickets on behalf of users. Figures suggest Browder has saved UK and US drivers around 2Million Pound in fines in 2015. Furthermore, the app can help users to fill out governmental paperwork and take care of customer issues (Gibbs).

The FreeTrialSufing feature first launched in the United States at the beginning of August. Over 10.000 users signed up and used the feature within six weeks. Since September 16th the app is also available in the United Kingdom App Store. The feature has mainly been used for different kinds of porn sites and the streaming platform Netflix. It is only available for Apple devices but a web version is in development (Sharma). 

What it looks like

Screenshots of the DoNotPay App showing the FreeTrialSurfing feature step by step, taken on September 21. 2019.

The interface of the App is designed user-friendly. It is possible to sign up and start right away. The customer can choose between different issues he or she needs help with. The FreeTrialSurfing feature is one of the issues that can be clicked on. After that, the user can decide which free trial service he would like to sign up for and will be automatically referred to the DoNotPay card and fake e-mail. All of the steps are well explained and easy to follow.

Conclusion and future outlook

The new FreeTrialSufing feature could make a difference, shape the world of streaming and subscription services in general by empowering customers. On the other hand, it could constitute a big challenge for service providers since the forgetfulness of potential customers serves a big revenue stream for companies. The application is very new and its effects are yet to be researched and explored. It could evolve as a big barrier for companies if it gets the same kind of attention as ad-blockers do, which make a lot of websites struggle with an increased loss of ad impressions. (Redondo, Aznar 1607-1608)

The feature also opens up opportunities for identity obfuscation which plays a big role in personal data discussions. However, the feature has to be viewed critically because all data generated are being tracked by DoNotPay. Joshua Browder also told BBC he might soon charge for the service, which would be very ironic because in that case, DoNotPay would have access to the customers’ banking details. Another question that comes up while using the feature is about the bank which cooperates with DoNotPay – Who is the big player supporting the venture? Which bank makes it possible to generate these virtual banking details?

The streaming industry is booming. A great example for that is the international music streaming market. “The global recorded music market grew by 9.7% in 2018, the fourth consecutive year of growth”. The IFPI’s Global Music Report 2019 also shows that revenues for 2018 were a total of US$19.1 billion (IFPI). Because of that new services are about to enter the market. This September Apple announced its new streaming service Apple TV Plus which is about to undercut Netflix (Warrington). Another streaming video service that is going to launch this year and intends to compete with Netflix is Disney Plus (Gates). Consumers are having more and more services and content to choose from which at first glance appears to be a great development. Deloitte’s annual Digital Media Trends survey proves the opposite: 47 percent of consumers in the United States are frustrated by the growing number of subscriptions. Only time will tell how successful the new streaming services will be. If the FreeTrialSurfing feature continues to be successful and gains more attention it could affect the new service providers in their advertising choice and whether or not there will be a free trial available.

Works cited:

Gates, Chris. “Disney+: Here’s what we know so far about the upcoming streaming service.“ Digital Trends. 2019. 22.09.2019.

Gibbs, Samuel. “Chatbot lawyer overturns 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York.“ The Guardian. 2016. 20.09.2019.

Grant, Kelli B. “The subscription habit wasting $500 per year.“ CNBC. 2016. 20.09.2019.

IFPI. “Global Music Report 2019.“ 2019. 22.09.2019.

Jayakumar, Amrita. “Little-box retailing: Subscription services offer new possibilities to consumers, major outlets.“ The Washington Post. 2014. 20.09.2019.

Kleinmann, Zoe. “App that cancels subscriptions launches in UK“. BBC. 2019. 19.09.2019.

Moogimane, Dhaval. “America’s Relationship with Subscription Services.“ Westmonroe. 2019. 22.09.2019.

Redondo, Ignacio, Aznar, Gloria. “To use or not to use ad blockers? The roles of knowledge of ad blockers and attitude toward online advertising.“ Telematics and Informatics 35.6 (2018)9: 1607-1616. 22.09.2019.

Sharma, Ruchira. “New app promises to automatically cancel subscriptions at end of a free trial period so you won’t get charged.“ iNews. 2019. 20.09.2019.

Warrington, James. “Apple TV Plus gives Netflix chills as it undercuts streaming rival.“ City A.M. 2019. 21.09.2019.

Yi, Zelong, Li, Fan, MA Lijun. “The impact of distribution channels on trial-version provision with a positive network effect.“ Omega 85 (2019): 115-133. 21.09.2019.

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