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Often anything that is automatic is perceived to be good. But what if I want to make it sound bad? Can I use a different word or phrase?

As context and an example, we're in a dispute with a company that has a policy of automatically renewing subscriptions without any warning or notification that the subscription is up for renewal.

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16 Answers 16

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Mechanically

Without thought or spontaneity; automatically. ‘the words are repeated mechanically’

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    This is the perfect answer. It might not be the best solution to the OP's problem, but it has exactly the same meaning as "automatic" (performed "by" or "as if by" a machine) and it has negative connotations.
    – fdreger
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 14:38
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blindly (adj.)

    1. Without understanding or using one's judgement; unthinkingly. ‘don't blindly accept dogma as justification’

From that definiton, "unthinkingly" would also fit your purposes. If your complaint is primarily that there was no notice, "silently" fits the bill, but doesn't convey the "without thought" part. British English speakers sometimes use "blithely" to describe unthinking actions, but it's rare in American English.

To convey your frustration that the action was not one you were given a chance to agree to, consider

Unilaterally (adj.)

  • undertaken or done by or on behalf of one side, party, or faction only; not mutual

However, using a single word will reduce the emphasis on that aspect of your complaint. If there's a particular aspect of behaviour that you are unhappy with, it's usually better to state it in full. In your example, try this:

  • automatically renewed this subscription without first obtaining our consent.

This also explains the behaviour you were expecting. (You can of course replace "automatically" with any of the suggested adjectives)

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    I think blindly best fits the titles question, but silently best fits the example provided (as far as single word options) - but I wonder which is the real question
    – TCooper
    Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 0:14
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  1. peremptorily

in a way that expects to be obeyed immediately and without any questions. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/peremptorily

  1. robotically

Then he was mocked for robotically repeating the same answer during a television interview. Times, Sunday Times (2011) https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/robotically

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Knee-jerk is defined by lexico.com as

(of a response) automatic and unthinking.

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    Came here to say this. Also "reflexive" or, in some cases, "reactionary". Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 6:59
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Compulsive is a reasonable fit here.

It means that something is done due to an irresistible urge or force rather than a conscious desire.

"Your policy regarding compulsive renewal is unjust..."

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I think rote does well here.

From Merriam-Webster

rote 1: the use of memory usually with little intelligence learn by rote 2: mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition a joyless sense of order, rote, and commercial hustle — L. L. King

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Doing something "on auto-pilot" can have a negative connotation. Doesn't exactly apply to the auto-renewal example, but "going through your day on auto-pilot" is a bad thing.

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I like

  • tacit

And I prefer

  • senseless / mindless

over "blindly" because I don't see a need to conflate sightedness with thoughtfulness.

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Performing an action like a drone. Drone like, mindless and without any thoughts.

Edit Adding supporting reference as suggested by TCooper

Definition 2 of dronelike from Wiktionary, which is a synonym of mechanical

Definition 3.1 of drone from Lexico.com

In the latter, a usage example is ‘Oh, you're right, they do sound like mindless drones when they greet you, Toni!’

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  • A drone? As in, a "stingless male bee", a "parasite" or "an unmanned aircraft"? I don't see how any of those could fit. Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 18:32
  • @eric Parasite? What is the connection? Drone as in preprogrammed, acting according to given instruction set with hardly any automation or minimal decision making. Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 18:37
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    That was my point, I don't see any connection to the question either. I merely listed the definitions I found in Merriam-Webster. Do you have any link to a definition of "drone" which could fit? Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 18:53
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    While I agree with @EricDuminil - I can't find a published definition that fits - I knew exactly what you meant and your answer fit well (at least for me) in this context. While it may not be an official use, I think it falls into popular use. Whether that's acceptable on this site... For why it fits the context to me, see definition 3.1 lexico.com/en/definition/drone and definition 2 en.wiktionary.org/wiki/dronelike, and also the synonym 'mechanical' linked on the page - these act in a mindless way, automatically. To me the mindlessness is the negative
    – TCooper
    Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 0:07
  • @TCooper this answer could be improved by editing in the definition/source in your comment
    – 0xFEE1DEAD
    Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 18:09
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In the same spirit as one of the answers above, there is also mechanistically, which I think is slightly more pejorative than mechanically.

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  • You beat me to it!
    – user205876
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 2:44
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I think Programmed does bear a negative connotation when applied to humans. Similar use can be found here

Another term Hardwired may also convey similar yet not exactly same meanings

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Unbidden

not invited or wanted

Even though it isn't exactly the same as automatically, it could be used as a negative connotation of the same to signify that the action was performed without consideration and/or explicit request and was perceived negatively because of it's undesirability.

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OED:

pre-emptive, adj. and n.

  1. Military. Of an offensive strategy or action: intended to forestall an enemy attack; frequently in pre-emptive strike (now frequently figurative).

In its figurative sense it carries the nuance of an action taken suddenly in anticipation of, and to counter, the third party's possible action:

OECD Economic Surveys: Mexico 2007 - Page 11 "The bank responded with a pre-emptive move by raising its interest rate in April, in order to prevent the upturn in inflation from feeding into inflation expectations."

In your context, "pre-emptive" would be have the nuance of "reprehensible."

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How about covert autopayments? From Lexico:

covert: Not openly acknowledged or displayed.

When a company charges you automatically, especially for a long period of time, for services you no longer use, and it does so without letting you know this is the case, e.g., by sending you regular itemized bills or querying you re your extended non-use of the service, they are not openly acknowledging or displaying that they're continuing to charge you. I'd call these covert autopayments.

Surreptitious autopayments would also work (see Conrado's comment on your question). From Lexico:

surreptitious: Kept secret, especially because it would not be approved of.

While one could argue that such autopayments are not entirely secret, the automatic charging policies of some companies certainly demonstrate a major, if not intentional, lack of transparency.

While I am a firm believer in "Caveat emptor," I considered my Netflix experience (see my comment on your question) to be an unscrupulous business practice (see Jim's comment on your question). From Lexico:

unscrupulous: Having or showing no moral principles; not honest or fair.

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    I don't think that these 3 words are alternatives for, or imply, "automatic(ally)" Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 4:57
  • @ErwinBolwidt Thanks. Fair enough, but with autopayment they do. OP requested single words or phrases. Many of the single words suggested in other answers don't work by themselves either. Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 14:13
  • @ErwinBolwidt Note also that the question says this: "As context and an example, we're in a dispute with a company that has a policy of automatically renewing subscriptions without any warning or notification that the subscription is up for renewal." That's what I was addressing in my answer. Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 18:09
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repetitive

This word is usually used with negative meaning.

"Repetitive work tires the worker."

"Repetitive strain injury"

It does not convey the meaning of "automatic" in the sense that something happens without human intervention, but the context could convey that.

"The repetitive confirmation dialogues from the software annoy me."


Note: I am aware that "repetitive" is not a synonym for "automatic". It might fit the bill in a context where the automatic nature is implicit.

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This is what the question says (emphasis mine):

a policy of automatically renewing subscriptions without any warning or notification that the subscription is up for renewal.

This means that you have already agreed that there will be an automatic renewal. There isn't anything shady going on that a renewal happens without you having known that would be the case.

Therefore, the emphasis is on the renewal itself, rather than the motivations of the company behind it.

Some companies do provide advance notice that something is about to be renewed. It gives you a chance to cancel your subscript if you wish. Without that advance notice, you can have forgotten about it and miss the chance to cancel (assuming you want to).

How could the quality of the this automatic renewal be expressed? It is abrupt:

[Merriam-Webster]
1 a : characterized by or involving action or change without preparation or warning : sudden and unexpected
      // came to an abrupt stop
      // an abrupt turn
      // an abrupt decision to retire
1 b : rudely or unceremoniously curt
      // She has an abrupt manner.
      // an abrupt reply
1 c : lacking smoothness or continuity
      // an abrupt transition

A possible sentence used to describe the situation in the question is the following:

Without a friendly reminder ahead of time, we find your automatic renewals to be abrupt.

Anything that is abrupt has a negative connotation. As in the definition itself, it is sudden, unexpected, rude, curt, and lacking advance notice.

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    The question was asking for a synonym for the word automatic with a more negative connotation. This example still uses the word and just tries to frame the word as negative by adding a qualifier.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 9:50

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