‹ Nick Plunkett

Proton's Account Downgrade Process Feels Like a Scam

Apr 04, 2024

tl;dr: Don’t sign up for Proton’s paid account if you think you might ever cancel. Their cancellation process is centered around a dark pattern of refusing to let you unsubscribe until you go through their arbitrary weeks-long process, after which you still might not even be able to cancel!

I have been a long time fan of Proton, I signed up for Proton Mail a long time ago near when it was first available to US users. I used it as a secondary email for a long time, with my main email routing through a legacy G Suite free account that I had retained from signing up for that service early on as well.

When G Suite announced they were sunsetting free accounts, I naturally gravitated toward Proton and made it my primary email provider - signing up for a paid subscription and everything. Over time I grew annoyed with how they handled filtering and email notifications, and G Suite announced they would still support legacy free accounts for the foreseeable future, so I decided to migrate back. I didn’t cancel the auto renewal of my subscription right away - a rookie mistake. When I got an email later that my subscription had renewed for another year, I figured it was time to cancel. I would eat the cost of this year and be free next year - that was fine, as long as I could cancel.

I was met with the most user hostile system that seemed to be built around trapping people into subscriptions for Proton. They do not let you downgrade your account if you are using more storage than the free tier, which

is fair. The nasty part about this process is that they 1) don’t tell you what is using your storage, and 2) count every single email ever received (all text, and linked images, even if they are not storing them directly) toward this count. They also don’t give you an option to just delete everything to downgrade. I was not interested in keeping my emails stored in Proton. 

OK, so I figure I’ll just delete all my messages. Luckily they have a way to “select all” messages in your various inboxes/folders, but they don’t let you delete them directly. Instead you have to move them to the trash first, which makes sense. What doesn’t make sense, is that when you do that, you are met with a message that “this might take a while”. They don’t define “a while”. It took me hours of waiting for the messages to move over several days, checking in periodically on the process. Finally, once they are in the trash, you can actually delete them from taking up your storage space. You have to wait again, and this takes just as long! If you are anywhere near your renewal date, you will definitely be charged again, and I think this was designed into the system. How can it possibly take days to update a location of a message in a database? 

OK, after that I thought I was in the clear and under their minuscule 500 megabyte storage limit. Their UI on the account screen confirmed it, and they even confirmed I was on the support ticket I had opened with them, asking them to just manually downgrade my account since the deletion process was taking so long! However, sure enough, going through their downgrade process again, I still was not allowed to downgrade due to “storage usage”, even though their tool itself and support team confirmed I was under the free limit!

This was the final straw. I was not going to invest any more time in this - clearly they have designed the system to be so convoluted and difficult that people will give up and just continue their subscription without thinking about it. I wasn’t about to let them get away with that. 

I had asked them several times across the support chat to downgrade my account from their side, and if they wouldn’t, I would be filing a chargeback for the most recent renewal of my subscription. They never once were helpful, so I started the chargeback process. They instantly closed my account and blocked my access. They responded to the chargeback request from my credit card provider that I had accessed the account after the subscription renewal date - which proves I had access to their service and the charge is valid. Yeah, of course I accessed it, I was trying to downgrade! Your ridiculous process makes it impossible to actually ever cancel a subscription!

I’m not the only one who has experienced this ridiculous process. I came across a post on The Bored Horse by Thord D. Hedengren where they detailed their same experience - Downgrading Proton Shouldn’t Be This Hard. How can a reputable company act like this? I will never be using their services again, and I will be making sure to never recommend them to anyone looking for services they can rely on or trust to act in their best interest.