The overreach in those user agreements and terms of service we all click through so blithely is just…
…well, yes, outrageous…
…uh-huh, good point, it’s terribly unfair…
…mm-hmm, I can see how they are evidence of an amoral, nay, sociopathic drive to seize as much profit and property as a skewed and corrupt judicial and legislative process will allow, but that wasn’t what I’m going for here.
I was going to say beautiful.
The human race is capable of such great leaps of invention, intuition and imagination. Yet they are all eclipsed by the sheer brilliance of this move:
General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, “join” it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.
That’s elegant, and it’s unfortunate that so many selfish people couldn’t see past the impact on their own petty little lives to the aesthetic glory of what General Mills was trying to accomplish. Like a supervillain saddened that James Bond can’t understand the majestic sweep of his vision of turning the world’s oceans into Poly Filla, the corporation has had to reluctantly back down.
But where a giant has fallen, a thousand smaller but no-less-artistically-minded companies may yet get the appreciation they truly deserve, with user agreements capable of stifling negative Yelp reviews.
Those agreements — those beautiful, glorious epic odes to avarice — are now threatened by legislation and the courts, which may take the short-sighted view that burying the wholesale surrender of legal rights in a landfill of legalese can’t constitute informed agreement.
My hope, though, is that we can take a more enlightened view. Under the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, surely grotesquely unfair user agreements qualify as artistic expression, and a protected class of speech.
Remember, you can’t spell “consumer” without “censor”.