Updated 11:35 a.m.: The public went apedoody when they heard about General Mills' move to sneakily force consumers to "agree" not to sue the company if they "like" a General Mills product on Facebook, or download a coupon or enter a contest, and, as it turns out, GM has already backed down. "We've listened - and we're changing our legal terms back," the company says in a blog post dated April 19, claiming that its "intentions" were "widely misread, causing concern among consumers." [See editor's note at the bottom of the post.]
"Arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled. Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful," GM says. See, they were just trying to be helpful! But, they have "reverted back to our prior terms," which do not require you agree to arbitration if you interact with them in any way online.
Then the company gets whiny:
"We'll just add that we never imagined this reaction. Similar terms are common in all sorts of consumer contracts, and arbitration clauses don't cause anyone to waive a valid legal claim. They only specify a cost-effective means of resolving such matters. At no time was anyone ever precluded from suing us by purchasing one of our products at a store or liking one of our Facebook pages. That was either a mischaracterization - or just very misunderstood.
"We're sorry we even started down this path. And we do hope you'll accept our apology. We also hope that you'll continue to download product coupons, talk to us on social media, or look for recipes on our websites."
We don't know, General Mills. It's going to take more than a half-assed, point-the-finger apology after you're been busted to regain our trust. Do we look like Tori Spelling?
Original post, Wed, Apr 23, 2014 at 6:00 AM: Just when you thought giant corporations couldn't get any shadier: If you "like" a General Mills product on Facebook, or download a coupon or enter a contest, you have just "agreed" to never sue the company.
Legal experts are hashing out whether General Mills' new posted legal terms are actually, uh, legal, according to Consumer Affairs. In the meantime, it behooves you to "unlike" and "unsubscribe."
The food conglomerate includes such brands as Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Progresso, Old El Paso and, of course, many popular cereal brands such as Cheerios, Chex, Lucky Charms and Wheaties. The company's reach is far: Yoplait and Mountain High yogurts, Totino's pizza, Nature Valley granola bars and Larabars, Hamburger Helper, Macaroni Grill, Haagen-Daz, even Gold Medal flour.
According to their new legal "terms," if you ever download a General Mills coupon for any of these items, enter a General Mills sweepstakes or pretty much have any sort of online interaction with General Mills whatsoever, you have no right to sue General Mills if anything goes wrong with any of their products.
When you digitally interact with General Mills, here is what you are agreeing to, according to the company:
ANY DISPUTE OR CLAIM MADE BY YOU AGAINST GENERAL MILLS ARISING OUT OF OR RELATING TO THIS AGREEMENT OR YOUR PURCHASE OR USE OF ANY GENERAL MILLS SERVICE OR PRODUCT (INCLUDING GENERAL MILLS PRODUCTS PURCHASED AT ONLINE OR PHYSICAL STORES FOR PERSONAL OR HOUSEHOLD USE) REGARDLESS OF WHETHER SUCH DISPUTE OR CLAIM IS BASED IN CONTRACT, TORT, STATUTE, FRAUD, MISREPRESENTATION, OR ANY OTHER LEGAL THEORY (TOGETHER, A "DISPUTE") WILL BE RESOLVED BY INFORMAL NEGOTIATIONS OR THROUGH BINDING ARBITRATION, AS DESCRIBED BELOW.
If you click on General Mills' "Legal Terms" page, you will come to this:
These terms are a binding legal agreement ("Agreement") between you and General Mills. In exchange for the benefits, discounts, content, features, services, or other offerings that you receive or have access to by using our websites, joining our sites as a member, joining our online community, subscribing to our email newsletters, downloading or printing a digital coupon, entering a sweepstakes or contest, redeeming a promotional offer, or otherwise participating in any other General Mills offering, you are agreeing to these terms.
Of course, your decision to do any of these things (i.e., to use or join our site or online community, to subscribe to our emails, to download or print a digital coupon, to enter a sweepstakes or contest, to take advantage of a promotional offer, or otherwise participate in any other General Mills offering) is entirely voluntary. But if you choose to do any of these things, then you agree to be bound by this Agreement.
Translation: If you use our coupons, enter our contests or visit our websites, you are legally bound to not sue us.
General Mills gives consumers an out, sort of:
You may terminate this Agreement by providing us with written notice of your desire to do so by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first and last name and the year in which you were born in the email.
But do keep in mind:
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To be perfectly safe, maybe you should just stop buying General Mills products.
Editor's note: Our original blog post did not acknowledge that GM had already backed off its new legal terms, which we should have realized. We regret the error.