How many times have you used an app or gone to a website, signed an agreement, and not even looked at the fine print? Most of us click “I agree” and start downloading. But if you actually read those very tiny words, Consumer Reports says you might be surprised at what you’re agreeing to.
Can you guess which app makes you agree not to develop, design or manufacture nuclear weapons when you accept its terms? Apple iTunes.
Consumer Reports’ Justin Brookman, an expert in consumer privacy and technology law, says he sees a lot of wacky clauses hidden in user agreements.
“You promise not to ‘get drunk on’ Tumblr’s usernames… What does that even mean?” Brookman questioned.
He also found this one: “... in the case of a viral infection that causes human corpses to reanimate … and likely to result in the fall of … civilization.”
“It means in the event of a zombie apocalypse, Amazon’s not going to sue you. I think in a lot of these cases the companies’ lawyers are just having fun,” said Brookman.
Fun aside, there’s a lot buried in these agreements that could limit your rights if something goes wrong, including ones that seek to prevent users from posting negative reviews.
CONSUMER REPORTS: I Agreed to What?
Take Intel, which says “violators will be prosecuted to the maximum extent possible.” Intel told Consumer Reports the clause is to protect the company from inaccurate reviews but hasn’t enforced it recently.
Brookman says many of these clauses may now be illegal due to legislation passed a few years ago, but some companies still include them.
“I think it’s a scare tactic,” he said. “I think they know that consumers don’t necessarily know the law. But if you lie about them, if you defame them, then that’s not protected, and companies have a right to sue you for it.”
Some go further, saying you can’t sue a business over a dispute, making you resolve your issues outside the courts with an arbitration clause.
AT&T uses language typical in many agreements: “... you are … waiving the right to a trial by jury or to participate in a class action.”
AT&T declined to address why the company sought to eliminate the possibility of class-action lawsuits but argued that arbitration is faster and less expensive for consumers. But Consumer Reports says that’s not fair.
“If your product breaks or something goes wrong or if it hurts you, you should have a right to go to court and sue them for the damages that it caused,” said Brookman.
Consumer Reports says there’s really no getting around accepting terms if you want a product. So, it’s best to opt for products that don’t require mandatory arbitration when resolving disputes.