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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Don't let Microsoft clip our rights

 The computer giant is trying to force us into forced arbitration

Clippy Shareable

Microsoft, the company that gave us Vista, Ctrl-Alt-Delete and Clippy, has something in store for us that’s even worse.  The company has been phasing in forced arbitration clauses in its “services agreement.”

That means if you are harmed by a Microsoft product or service, you can’t stand up for your rights in court.  Instead, you have to take your case to an arbitrator hired by Microsoft.  Arbitrators do not need to be lawyers or follow precedent, yet their word is nearly always final and unappealable.  One study found that such arbitrators rule for the businesses that hire them 94 percent of the time.

Microsoft also won’t let you band together with others the company has wronged and bring a class-action suit – often the only way to stop a corporation from cheating millions of consumers.  The latest version of the services agreement makes this ban even more strict.

One can see why Microsoft might be fond of forced arbitration.  In a 2003 e-mail, company founder Bill Gates used the following terms to describe what it was like to use one of his own products:
 disappointed, backwards, unusable, totally confusing, strange, pathetic, completely odd, weird, scary, crazy, slow, garbage, not usable, crapped up, crap, absolute mess, craziness, terrible.
Microsoft joins a lengthening list of big businesses that are taking away our rights when we’re harmed by their products and services.  Public outrage forced General Mills to back down.  But odds are you’ve clicked through at least one contract with a forced arbitration clause in the fine print. They are showing up everywhere, from credit card contracts to the Instagram terms of use.  And in the case of Microsoft, using one of the affected products means you’ve consented to surrendering your rights.

Perhaps the best indicator of just how bad a deal forced arbitration is for consumers is the sneaky way big businesses force it on us.

Take Microsoft’s latest email announcing the changes.  “Our users' needs are at the center of everything we do,” says the happy little email. “That's why we are updating the Microsoft Services Agreement.”  But there’s no mention of forced arbitration in the email itself.  And there’s no mention of it in the FAQ that supposedly offers the “highlights.”

No, you have to click on the link to the fine print and scroll down to Section 10 before you find out what Microsoft is taking away.  If forced arbitration is so great, why does it have to be forced?  Why not offer it on a voluntary basis?  And why aren’t companies bragging about it instead of tucking it away in those long, long “agreements” that few of us have the time to read?

There is a solution.  The Arbitration Fairness Act would put an end to these outrages.  If you don’t want your rights “clipped” by the company that gave us Clippy – or by all the other corporations on the forced arbitration bandwagon – tell your Members of Congress to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act.

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