Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reading the Fine Print

I know I shouldn't just automatically accept the 7,000-line-super-fine-print user agreements that most of us just click through when we do things online ... but I usually do. And so do you, probably. But do we really know what's in that fine print?

Here's an interesting article about the things hidden in the fine print of agreements from a credit card giant - Capital One Says It Can Show Up At Cardholders' Homes, Workplaces. The newly-updated Capitol One credit card agreements specify (in 0.00000735-point type) that "we may contact you in any manner we choose" and that such contacts can include calls, emails, texts, faxes or a "personal visit," at "your home and at your place of employment."

And speaking of those calls, Capitol One tells you (very quietly) that, "We may modify or suppress caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose." That means that they can trick you into picking up the phone by pretending to be someone else, someone non-threatening. Nice, eh? And legal, too, apparently.

Do you remember the story from last year about the online retailer that sued a couple for making negative comments about the retailer on a rating website? Apparently, the fine print of the sales agreement they signed had a "non-disparagement clause" that prohibited them from saying anything bad about the company ... and they never read far enough down in the agreement to see it (if they read the agreement at all).

What are some of the other things that might be hiding in that fine print? It wouldn't surprise me to find things like this ...

"Don't make us angry. You wouldn't like us when we're angry."

"In the event of a dispute, you agree to arbitration. We reserve the right to select the method of arbitration, which is cage fighting to the death against a rabid, starving grizzly bear."

"Accounts more than thirty days in arrears will incur a penalty. The current penalty is forfeiture of your firstborn male child. In the event that no male child is available, you may be sold into slavery in the Middle Eastern nation of our choice."

Lots of people nowadays are spun up over what they think horrible Jack-Booted Government ThugsTM are planning to do to them, but no one seems to worry about all the things that Big, Bad Business is already doing to them with absolute impunity, and usually with their consent, witting or not. Regardless of how you feel about your Government, there are legal and Constitutional limits on its authority, and plenty of people willing to sue The Government* at the drop of a hat over real or perceived transgressions of authority. But who protects us from all the things that businesses can do to us? Big Business contributes vast amounts of money - often anonymously - to political campaigns that allow them to pull the strings on lawmakers. If you don't think there's a Platinum-Plus level of legal privilege and entitlement that applies to those with deep pockets and not to you, you need to lay off the medical marijuana.

You may not get to write the fine print, but you need to read it**. It's not always the Big Bad Government that's out to screw you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Such as Rand Paul and the American Civil Liberties Union.

** Me, too.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

This sorry state of affairs is the result of too little regulation. In effect, businesses and credit card companies have the deck stacked in their favor.

I must admit that I don't read the fine print; it's a My Eyes Gloss Over situation; but I'll be more careful in the future!

The Bastard King of England said...

Oftentimes, there's no other game in town when it comes to credit card terms. They're all pretty similar.

KathyA said...

My call-screening just got a little more substantive. :)

Mike said...

I think a lot of these agreements may be against the law in many states. But as a lawyer told me one time, a law is not a law until it's tested in court.