Part of my work, both paid and voluntary, involves running social media accounts for various organisations. I often try out different software for scheduling tweets, measuring social media engagement and so on. A year ago I decided to upgrade my Hootsuite account to a Pro (paid) account so I could access the analytics service.
£9.99 a month seemed pretty reasonable and the first month was a free trial, so I signed up and handed over my credit card details. After a very short time of exploring the Pro features, before I’d even managed to generate a decent graph, I got a message saying that I’d used up all my Hootsuite Pro “points” and I would have to pay an extra £30+ if I wanted to do anything more with the metrics visualisation features. Suddenly that £9.99 didn’t seem such good value any more, not when there’s so much other good social media metrics software out there and much of it is free.
I downgraded my account from Pro back to free. As I might have expected, the Hootsuite user interface made this as confusing and frustrating as possible. One particularly sneaky example: when you downgrade, they make you select from a list of reasons why you’re not sticking with Pro. At first it looks like they’re just seeking feedback, but then you realise that ticking the “wrong” reason means you’re blocked from downgrading. For example, ticking “I had technical issues” means you get messages offering technical help and there is no way of continuing with the downgrade process. (The button at the bottom unexpectedly says “Stay with Pro”, so if you’re in a hurry and click it trying to move the downgrade process along, you will in fact be “consenting” to keeping your paid account! Surprise!)
Anyway, you have to go through all the “reasons” for downgrading by trial and error until you select the “right” one and are permitted to downgrade back to a free account. I went through this in November 2014, chalked it up to experience and thought no more of it until the start of November 2015, when Hootsuite emailed me to say:
The credit card we have on file for your Hootsuite account will expire at the end of this month. As such, it will no longer be valid for payment of your Hootsuite account.
To continue using Hootsuite without interruption, please update your credit card information at: https://hootsuite.com/billing<
I had no idea that when I used my credit card to sign up for a month’s worth of software, Hootsuite would keep my card details on file for the whole of the following year. The Billing link in the email didn’t work (it just redirected to my Dashboard) but I found the Billing settings. There is no option to delete your credit card information. I’ll repeat that:
There is no option to delete your credit card information.
So if, like me, you’ve accidentally found out that Hootsuite has been storing your credit card details without your knowledge, you still can’t delete this info from your account. You can update the details by adding a new credit card, but you can’t remove the old one. There are two paragraphs of justification about this that boil down to:
1. If they don’t keep your card info, your payment might lapse even though you really want to continue with Pro membership, and that would be terrible because they’d have to downgrade you.
2. If they keep credit card information, it helps to “reduce fraud” because the same person can’t sign up for multiple free trials of Hootsuite Pro (unless, um, they have more than one credit card?)
I was irritated to get a second email two weeks later nagging me to update the card details I never consented for them to keep, and extra irritated that it came from a “no reply” email address so I couldn’t get in touch easily about it.
So I took to Twitter. I’ve Storified most of the long, boring exchange and won’t repeat the details here, but to summarise: I asked Hootsuite nearly ten times for some form of contact info. I said I would be happy with an email address, a phone number, a postal address or even a login to their ticketing system. Each request was refused.
Meanwhile, they kept asking for my email address. I said no. My whole problem was with them storing and using my billing and contact information without my consent; why were they demanding even more information from me in the name of solving the problem?
Their response to that “no” was to search their database for what looked like it might be my email address, then repeatedly ask me to confirm it. (Because God forbid they might contact the wrong person, what with caring so much about data protection and all!) I refused to confirm it and continued asking for some form of contact information so I could get in touch with them rather than the other way round.
Eventually the flurry of DMs escalated from a social media officer to their supervisor, who sent me a long and pretty patronising message. The gist: they need me to confirm my email address so they can delete my credit card from my account and stop emailing me to ask me to update it. If I will just play nice and confirm the info, they can solve my problem “in a flash”. If I refuse to play nice and keep asking for some form of contact info from them, they will close the support ticket without any further action.
They also confirmed that it is company policy not to offer the public an email address to contact Hootsuite, although they are planning to offer phone support “in the near future”. That’s non-negotiable. (I repeatedly asked why they were so insistent on having a one-sided interaction where I had to give out my email address but they wouldn’t give me theirs. The eventual answer was: “I am not going to comment on why these policies are taken.”)
So they will continue to hold my credit card details on their system (in contravention of industry security standards) and continue to send me emails asking me to update that credit card, despite the fact that I never wanted this and have now repeatedly made it explicit that I do not want this. And they’re framing the entire issue as my problem which they’re trying to “solve”. Not a massive systemic issue with the way the company stores customer credit card info – just one little lady with one little problem who won’t be helped.
It is just possible that I’ve been ridiculously unlucky to have my billing details stored without my consent, and that this is not regular company policy. But the more likely conclusion is that this is company policy. Hootsuite takes your credit card details when you sign up for the “free” trial and then stores those credit card details indefinitely without telling you. And once that’s happened, your options are pretty crappy, even assuming you realise what’s happened. As I’ve said at length above, there’s no option in Billing to delete a stored card and there’s no good way of contacting Hootsuite.
My problem is about to solve itself, because that card I never wanted them to store is expiring, but my advice to others is: please don’t hand over your credit card information to Hootsuite in the first place. They can’t be trusted with it.