Yesterday I had an unhappy chat with Adobe support that lasted half an hour. Adobe had charged my credit card $54.95 with no explanation. The mostly empty invoice contained this:

SERVICE PERIOD: DEC-19-16 to DEC-19-16

A service period of zero days seemed suspicious. I was reasonably sure that an error had occurred and that I would get this money back. What I’d forgotten (or never fully realized) was that I had purchased a yearly subscription of Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud and then cancelled it, and this cancellation came with a hefty fee. Here’s the pertinent part of the conversation.

Santhosh: I see that you have cancelled the plan and you have been charged cancellation fee for the subscription cancellation.

Martyn Chamberlin: That’s what I see on the invoice…. very confusing.
Martyn Chamberlin: I was paying month by month for the service.

Santhosh: Since the subscription was cancelled with in the subscription contract period you are charged cancellation fee of 54.95 USD

Martyn Chamberlin: That seems exorbitant for a monthly service for which I was paying $20/mo pay-as-you-go?

Santhosh: The subscription plan that you have is the annual paid monthly plan and you will be in one year contract with Adobe.
Santhosh: Since you have cancelled the annual plan with the contract period you have been charged cancellation fee.

Martyn Chamberlin: I see. I wish this had been stated somewhere along the way, instead of buried in terms of service.
Martyn Chamberlin: Not happy about this.
Martyn Chamberlin: So basically I’ve been charged the equivalent of 3 months’ usage and I don’t have access any longer?

Santhosh: Yes, you are right.

Adobe does not offer a monthly plan for Creative Cloud. I could swear it used to. Confusingly, its pricing page shows pricing in monthly increments, but you can’t actually just pay monthly. That isn’t an option anywhere. When I signed up I thought I was on a monthly plan. I had no idea I was on a yearly plan, and I had no idea that I’d have to pay a huge fee for cancelling before the year was up. That’s frustrating.1

BUT. But. This was my fault for not reading the terms of service.

You can complain about Adobe’s business practices here, but I agreed to its playing field when I accepted the terms and conditions. The fact that I did not read them was my fault. You could argue that Adobe should make certain aspects of its terms more obvious and repeat them elsewhere throughout its site, but it’s not obligated to do that.

This brings me to Scott Adams piece a couple days ago: Should Twitter and Facebook be Regulated as Utilities?

My sketchy understanding of the law is that the government is only responsible for making sure the government itself is not abridging free speech. I think most of us agree that we don’t want the government volunteering for any more work than the constitution says it should be doing.

But shouldn’t the federal government get involved if a few monopoly corporations start to control the national conversation by filtering out voices that disagree with them? […]

I want to trust my government, but without freedom of speech, I find that impossible. That’s why I support creating a law requiring the government to audit the major social media sites to certify that freedom of speech still exists for all classes of users. (Within reason.)

If Twitter and Instagram really are toying around with Scott’s and his girlfriend’s accounts simply because Scott is a Donald Trump supporter, then shame on them. I have a very serious problem with that, and so should you. However, these services are not in the wrong in what they are doing from a legal standpoint. Here’s Twitter’s Terms of Service:

We may also remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, suspend or terminate users, and reclaim usernames without liability to you. […]

We may suspend or terminate your account or cease providing you with all or part of the Services at any time for any or no reason […]

Scott agreed to these terms when he created his Twitter account. Is it a bummer that Twitter is seemingly cutting him short? Yes. But should the government get involved in this? No.

I’ve already made my position clear yesterday on so-called net neutrality but let’s look at Scott’s example, because his is one of the best I’ve seen in favor of the regulation that net neutrality would eventually bring to media companies.2 I agree with Scott on a ton of stuff so this one was hard. My problem with his view here is that the government, just like private companies, contains political bias. Of course it does. This idea that the government could objectively assess and enforce the full spectrum of political views is nonsense. Instead, the government would intervene in cases it agreed, and hind behind a wall of bureaucracy in cases where it did not. If Hillary Clinton had been elected, would Scott be so eager to ask the government to force Twitter to un-throttle his Donald Trump feed? I think not. Allowing government to meddle in Twitter’s discretionary throttling might fix Scott’s problem during the present administration, but in the long game it would accomplish nothing except to allow the camel’s foot in the tent. The cure would be worse than the disease. Ajit Pai said it best:

But if this Order manages to survive judicial review, these will be the consequences: higher broadband prices, slower speeds, less broadband deployment, less innovation, and fewer options for American consumers. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet isn’t the solution to a problem. His plan is the problem.

The nail in the coffin against government regulation on media companies is the fact that Twitter has already officially stated in 2015 that it is in support of net neutrality, which claims to have identical goals to what Scott is asking for.

Twitter and its millions of users are counting on Washington to reaffirm net neutrality rules for their obvious and myriad benefits to the Internet ecosystem, to the economy, and to freedom of expression. For all these reasons, we strongly support the FCC taking action.

In other words, Scott is asking that Twitter adhere to that which Twitter already claims it supports. That should cause alarm right there that government regulation will not accomplish what Scott hopes it would. Government regulations cannot overcome the fact that all humans are politically biased and, whether they acknowledge it or not, are willing to round the corners a bit in order for the political slant that they view as correct to be the prevailing opinion. The end justifies the means.

Companies like Twitter are all in favor of government regulation when it’s convenient, when the issue is about ISPs, and about letting people say what the companies want them to say. But when it comes closer to home, they aren’t in favor of it, as is evidenced by their actions. Twitter’s treatment of Scott Adams is proof of that.3

Don’t kid yourself that government regulation would actually accomplish its purported goal. It’s about government control, not about true freedom of speech for all political persuasions. To quote another sentence from Ajit Pai’s dissent:

We are flip-flopping for one reason and one reason alone. President Obama told us to do so.

That sums it up all right there.

If you’re going to use a service, that service has the right to kick you out for any reason it wants, and I think it should stay that way. Every single service’s TOS states that very thing. To the tune of $54.95 I support the autonomy of terms of service. It hurts but it’s right. If you have a problem with that, or if you get kicked out, you can take your business elsewhere. For example, if GitHub Pages were to kick me off its platform because it didn’t like what I wrote, I could go buy a Mac Mini and host DC in-house if I wished. If Apple didn’t accept my business, I could buy my server hardware from some other vendor. There will always be someone who is willing to take your business.

Those are the rules of the game. That is the cost of true freedom.

  1. If I’d been reading Loop Insight more faithfully I would have been on guard against this. The only consolation is that a lot of other people have been victims of this too. A fool loves company. ↩︎

  2. Net neutrality has to do with the government regulating ISPs, not media companies like Twitter. I get that those are two separate discussions and that for the immediate future, net neutrality would be regarding ISPs only. But of course the very natural evolution of this new regulation would be to start applying it to media services as well. If Comcast cannot change your experience of Twitter, why should Twitter be allowed to either, since both have the same outcome? Further, the boundary of ISPs and media companies is extremely blurred. A couple of obvious examples are Time Warner which manages both CNN (media) and Time Warner Cable (ISP), and Google, which manages Google Plus (media) and Google Fiber (ISP). Make no mistake - net neutrality is about the government getting a foothold in how the private sector is allowed to serve the Internet in all its forms. ↩︎

  3. What if we’re misinterpreting Twitter’s actions and the seeming censorship of Scott’s online presence has nothing to do with his political affiliations? In that case, my argument against government regulation goes away. But with the same stroke, the argument for government regulation goes away too. No need for a cure to a problem that does not exist. ↩︎