You might want to think twice before you “like” Cheerios on Facebook in exchange for a discount or download a 50-cent Hamburger Helper coupon.
General Mills, the food conglomerate that includes Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, Green Giant, Progresso, Bisquick and various other brands, introduced a revised legal policy earlier this month. While a policy change may sound routine and harmless, The New York Times said it was anything but. The Times pointed out the revised policy’s legal ramifications to consumers:
[General Mills] has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, “join” it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.
So, rather than going through the U.S. court system, customers would be forced to resolve conflicts with General Mills using informal negotiation via email or binding arbitration, the Times said.
Not surprisingly, the story ignited a firestorm of debate on social media. General Mills rejected the Times’ interpretation of its policy in an email to the paper. According to the Times, General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas wrote:
No one is precluded from suing us merely by purchasing our products at the store or liking one of our brand Facebook pages. For example, should an individual subscribe to one of our publications or download coupons, these terms would apply. But even then, the policy would not and does not preclude a consumer from pursuing a claim. It merely determines a forum for pursuing a claim. And arbitration is a straightforward and efficient way to resolve such disputes.
Siemienas added that if the food company giant offered you a coupon in exchange for “liking” one of its many brands on Facebook, then you would have to agree to the company’s new terms to receive it.
Julia Duncan, director of federal programs at the American Association for Justice – a trade group for trial lawyers — told the Times that General Mills’ new policy was purposefully vague.
It is very clear that if you do any number of things, you are covered by these changes. If you use a coupon, go on their website, participate in a promotional campaign of any sort, sign up for email alerts or “participate in any offering by General Mills.” That is so exceptionally broad that it may be possible anything you purchase from them would be held to this clause.
According to the Christian Science Monitor there is a way to cancel your agreement with the new terms:
Consumers who wish to do so can opt out of the agreement by sending General Mills an e-mail at [email protected], that includes first name, last name, and date of birth. But the opt-out only holds as long as you no longer download any coupons or buy anything off a General Mills site.
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