How the Internet Made Me, and You and You and You….a Liar

November 3rd, 2015 by elaine

Whatever you have to do on the internet, where ever you want to go, even if your goal is shopping or  browsing, it has become more and more mandatory to SIGN-IN.  You have to REGISTER – you have to GIVE them all your information (to feed their DATA BASE so they can milk it), and then, before they will give you anything at all, you have to read their TERMS AND CONDITIONS and then check a box to indicate that you have indeed read their TERMS AND CONDITIONS, which you have not done because it is all fine print and may run to 20 pages, and then you have to check another box indicating that you AGREE.  You have the option to check the box indicating you DISAGREE but that is really no option at all – because you are literally opting out, the door slams in your face, you can’t go there.

I have felt uncomfortable about lying on the internet for some time.  At first it was just a private matter, no one was watching me, after all.  And after a while I noticed I was not even asked if I had read those TERMS AND CONDITIONS but was allowed just to skip right down to the box that says AGREE. And later still I noticed sometimes the TERMS AND CONDITIONS were not even there; instead there was a link to where you could find them if you were inclined to fool yourself into thinking you would read them later, so you could just check AGREE and give it no further thought.

Every time, every single time, I lied in this matter, whether to myself or to some invisible entity, there was a little scenario that played out in my mind -  I’ll tell you about it later – I felt certain some day we would all be exonerated from lying.  But now, thanks to the series on arbitration featured in the New York Times starting last Sunday, my certainty is no longer even a faint hope.

Headlined on the front page were the words Arbitration Everywhere – Stacking Deck of Justice   Vast Trend Locks Americans Out of Court – Rulings Greatly Favor Business. A clip from a typical fine print document appears on top of the headline:

“Arbitration

You or we may elect to resolve any claim by individual arbitration.  Claims are decided by a neutral arbitrator.

If arbitration is chosen by any party, neither you nor we will have the right to litigate that claim in court or have a jury trial on that claim. …..”

What this means, to put it bluntly, as several legal minds have done, is to deny you and me of “our day in court”, a right clearly given in the United States, for example, in its Constitution. In arbitration the decision of the arbitrator is final, there is no recourse to a higher court, or elsewhere.  And by the way, the arbitrator is not always neutral – the “company” is often the client of the arbitrator.

If arbitration sounds more friendly and less expensive it is not for you or me – case after heart-breaking case is described in The Times in which it is clear that the rules are loose if indeed present; it is not required, for example, that evidence be preserved or that the integrity of witnesses be maintained.  And if it is less expensive than protracted court hearings, it is because the decision is final, for one thing, and for another, because class-actions are prohibited.  If a company, for example, has imposed a fee across the board that is patently unfair, and if one individual demands and is refused the return of his money, he is not likely to go to court for, say $125.  (One man has done just that, and has so far spent $35,000 fighting his bank in arbitration over a $125 late fee on his credit card.)  But if there is a class action involving 125 million clients of that company, it could be extraordinarily expensive for that company to lose.

There is so much painful information in the Times‘ deeply researched articles, I could not bear to read it all.  I cannot even bear to write about it.  I have forced myself to go this far only because I have so frequently written about the sneaky, greedy, lying things corporations do to us, credit card companies, insurance companies, banks, telecommunications companies, electric companies; in fact, these articles also include cases involving elder abuse, employer negligence, and serious health matters.

As recently as last Thursday, I found myself skipping to the little box beside AGREE,  thinking of the scenario I invented, I mentioned it before, confident that someday a kindly judge would say to an injured party, Did you read the TERMS AND CONDITIONS and did you then, knowingly check AGREE?

And the reply would be honest:  No, your honour, I did not read the TERMS AND CONDITIONS.  There were pages and pages of fine print, and I am not a lawyer, and I was doing this online, and it would have taken hours and hours, and I was afraid I would be asked to give up my first-born son, and I would have had to check DISAGREE, and I really wanted that iPhone I had just bought outright without a contract, and I needed to AGREE to get it to work, and you know, your honour, no one reads those TERMS AND CONDITIONS and everyone knows that they don’t.

And the judge would say, I find for this individual, bang the gavel and clear the court.

I would seek out that individual and I would write the book.  And then there would be the movie, and instead of a beautiful young woman with no education playing the heroine,  I would have a feisty old lady in the role, and Judi Dench or Maggie Smith would play the part.

Obviously, it’s not going to happen with arbitration.  Where do we go from here, folks?  Just when I felt so up about our change in government here in Canada.  Just when it felt like there was still some time for people to take care of people, to sing and dance and write and work hard at whatever they do, and get pleasure from the work they do and the care they give to others and to the planet earth. I thought life would be sweet and there would be justice for all.

Now what?

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2015

Posted in Eighty and then some..., Letters to the corporation, Uncategorized


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