Clicking your rights away

IF A prize were to be awarded for the world’s clunkiest prose, the paragraphs of indecipherable text that make up “terms of use” agreements would surely win. These legal thickets are designed to protect companies from litigious online shoppers and users of web services. Some firms require agreement, as when users are asked to click a box before creating an Apple ID. Other sites explain their policies without seeking customers’ explicit consent. Few consumers read these terms, let alone understand them. Because they involve no negotiation between customer and company, firms often insert language conferring broad protections to lower their risk of liability. But in a new twist, legal disclaimers designed to limit lawsuits are now unleashing litigation.

A surge of lawsuits in America claims that companies’ online agreements violate consumers’ rights. Consumers are banding together in class actions against targets including Apple, Avis, Bed Bath & Beyond, Toys R Us and Facebook. The cases have a tinge of the bizarre, citing a law passed before companies even had websites. And the lawsuits...Continue reading