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Can A Facebook “Like” Remove Legal Rights?

Can a simple Facebook “Like” wind up having your legal rights waived?  The question arose following a New York Times report that anyone who “liked” General Mills Inc were disqualifying themselves from suing the Cheerios maker under the legal terms posted on the company’s website.

Can that be right?  Or legal? Or binding?

The Globe and Mail followed up the story by emailing a General Mills spokesman who denied that the company’s new policies would apply to those merely clicking “like.”

The GM’s new legal terms posted on its website had been “broadly mischaracterized,” he told the Globe and Mail.

Still, company spokesman Mike Siemienas acknowledged that its new policy would apply to anyone who subscribes to any of its publications or downloads a coupon to buy its iconic Cheerios cereal.

The fine print at the centre of the controversy – fine print that few people read – is known as a “mandatory arbitration clause,” a provision in website terms and in consumer agreements that forbids customers from suing the company, or taking part in a class action, and instead forces them to take any dispute with the company to closed-door arbitration.

It is increasingly common boilerplate language that comes with the purchase of cellphones, cars, televisions and other products, as companies try to head off class-action lawsuits, particularly in the United States.

But lawyers in Canada say that consumers here have little to fear from moves like the one by General Mills, whether they “like” a company on Facebook or not. That’s because after a rash of litigation over mandatory arbitration clauses that began about a decade ago, Ontario, Quebec and Alberta passed changes to consumer protection legislation that restricts such clauses or declares them invalid in many cases.

Even in provinces, such as British Columbia, where this kind of clause is still be valid, some lawyers say judges are reluctant to block class-action cases against companies accused of wrongdoing. In 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada narrowly allowed a proposed class-action in B.C. launched against Telus Inc. over cellphone fees to go ahead, despite the mandatory arbitration clauses.

Read more at Globe and Mail – Click Here

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