The Italian Antitrust Authority has recently announced the start of an investigation into unfair business practices by the website Italia-programmi.net owned by Estesa Limited, with the possible adoption of an interim injunction.
The proceedings started after a number of reports on the part of members of the public and consumer groups who had inadvertently paid for subscriptions on the site.
The link to www.italia programmi.net seems to have appeared as the first option on Google search results pages related to free downloads of a number of software applications, including the anti-virus software Avira.
Once users had reached the site they were asked to register and provide personal information in order to download the free software. In reality, however, through the registration process and without their knowledge, consumers were subscribing to a two-year contract with Estesa Ltd, a Republic of Seychelles based company, for the provision of software at an annual cost of €96 payable in advance once a year.
According to the Authority, the registration page quoted the terms of the subscription with insufficient graphic evidence for them to be understood at first sight. In point of fact “the consumer was led to believe that it was a free service.”
Once users had submitted their personal data and without providing them with any confirmation whatsoever of the completion of the contract, the company then began to demand payment, threatening to take legal action against users in the case of default, which would naturally lead to heavy additional costs.
Such reminders would even be sent to consumers who had exercised the right of withdrawal under the terms and conditions stipulated in the contract.
The Antitrust investigation into Italia-programmi.net is yet another case of websites which persuade consumers to sign contracts and subscribe to the supply of various services without their knowledge. It is estimated that between 2009 and 2011 alone, the Authority has imposed more than €5 million in fines for misconduct regarding such cases.