General Mills, maker of Cheerios, Trix and, weirdly, the deep sea submarine that explored the Titanic, can no longer use your online activity to prevent you from suing it.
The company got a fair amount of backlash last week when it changed its legal terms. If a customer interacted with General Mills in almost any way -- including downloading coupons, entering contests or joining any of its "online communities" -- the customer waived his right to sue. Any problems would have to be dealt with through "forced arbitration."
Needless to say, customers did not appreciate this. General Mills tried to clarify that liking its Facebook pages did not fall under those legal terms, as the New York Times article that kicked everything off said it did, but the damage was done.
On Saturday, in a slightly terse blog post, General Mills director of external communications Kirstie Foster announced that the company had decided to go back to its original legal terms. Customers can now download all the coupons they want without fear of losing their ability to sue General Mills.
Foster added that lots of other brands do forced arbitration, and no one seems upset when they do it and that's not fair because General Mills was just trying to help everyone save time and money:
We rarely have disputes with consumers – and arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled. Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful.
But consumers didn’t like it.
We'll just add that we never imagined this reaction. Similar terms are common in all sorts of consumer contracts, and arbitration clauses don’t cause anyone to waive a valid legal claim. They only specify a cost-effective means of resolving such matters. At no time was anyone ever precluded from suing us by purchasing one of our products at a store or liking one of our Facebook pages. That was either a mischaracterization – or just very misunderstood.
Not that any of that matters now.
There was also an apology that "we even started down this path" and some legalese "from our lawyers."
General Mills was one of, if not the, first food companies to try to force customers into arbitration and take away their rights to sue. And while you have the ability to sue General Mills again, there are still many companies out there you cannot.