A Tour Of A "Pay to Download Firefox" Site

At Mozilla, we regularly get anguished emails from people who have paid to download Firefox, and have then discovered a) that it's actually free, and b) that it's very hard to get the company they paid to stop charging their credit card. For those who have never had the misfortune to visit one of these trap sites, I thought people might be interested in a walkthrough of the user experience.

These sites get their custom through advertising. We and the major search engine providers do a reasonable job of keeping these people's adverts away from our trademarked terms and keywords but we can't be everywhere, and they can often be found on smaller search engines. Ah, thinks a user of info.co.uk: "Mozilla Firefox download - that sounds right." That first (sponsored) link goes to free-download-place.org. They offer "Firefox 3.0.8" (an out-of-date version) "Google Toolbar included":

There is no indication at this point that they are not the official download location for this software. If we look very carefully, right down at the bottom of the page, past a random list of contents of the Google Pack (which is not part of the download), we see:

This website has no affiliation whatsoever with the owner or manufacturer of this software program.
Copyright 2009, Free-Download-Place.Org. All rights reserved - Always Download Legally.

New computer users should find our services valuable, and a time saver.
If you are an advanced computer user, you probably don't need our services.

Anyway, back up at the top, if we don't notice that small print and we click "Download Now", we end up on yet another website - freedownloadzone.com. It is often the case that a website like freedownloadzone has lots of "feeder" websites like free-download-place which turn up for various search queries or have various suggestive domain names, and which direct you to the central website which takes the money. org-eng.info is another random site which runs the same interface as the one you are about to see. Here are some more. The company behind all of them is a Jersey-based company called "Saphie Number 1" (which sounds like the name of an off-the-shelf company to me).

At least here they are offering Firefox 3.5 rather than 3.0.8. Note that the title of the site and the green text all still suggest that this isn't going to cost the user anything. So we fill in the form, click "Next Step" and now we get (red text added by me):

Now, there is talk of "membership" and a "flat fee". The radio buttons and checkboxes here are worth analysing carefully. I have labelled them with their actual cost to you - compare that with the text provided by the website. The membership will cost you somewhere between £17.88 and £29.94. However, the two checkboxes, which are labelled "£1.49", actually cost you an immediate extra £17.88 each, and they are checked by default.

Note that it carefully says underneath in grey that "your membership is a onetime charge". Despite the fact that most costs are broken down per month, you don't get to pay per month. It all comes off your credit card in one go.

On to the next screen:

This is amazing. There's another checkbox down in the bottom right corner, next to the green text, which allows them to charge you another £9.88 per month - a per-monthly charge dwarfing all previous ones.

It still says "your membership is a one-time charge which will never be re-billed" - but that's only the membership portion of it. The £9.88 is going to come off every month and, if you are still foolish enough to be involved after a year, I bet they'll take another two lots of £17.88 for those first two checkboxes.

The only place that the total charge is shown is in normal text as part of a sentence on the right of the page. Can you spot it? If you ask for the breakdown, it shows:

£75.88 is $125.90 or €86.07. And that's before the recurring technical support charge (note the qualifying "today" in the above screenshot). All that for a copy of Firefox!

This is where we have to stop - journalistic bravery goes only so far. Even I am not willing to pay at least £75.58 to find out what happens next. Although I have heard that often these sites, to add insult to injury, direct their users to the official download sites for the original software, so they don't even use their own bandwidth! But before we finish, let's just look at a few choice phrases from the Terms and Conditions linked from this page:

freedownloadzone.com makes no claim to ownership or other control or rights to any software recommended by freedownloadzone.com or its agents. All software recommendations refer to either "Freeware" or software that is otherwise available without charge to individuals at large for specific purposes.
Once you submit your order for Membership, it is nonrefundable. Only in cases of fraud will the payment be refunded. This policy is in place due to an abuse of credit card chargebacks and theft of information. All requests for refunds due to fraud MUST be made in writing and physically mailed to freedownloadzone.
All recurring memberships are automatically renewed at the end of their term unless otherwise specified. It is each Member's responsibility to cancel prior to the renewal date if the membership is to be terminated.

There's no mention of the "7-day money back policy" which you've seen touted on several of the screens so far.

All this is one very good reason we need a strong trademark policy :-)

Original URL: http://www.gerv.net/hacking/pay-download-tour/