On So-Called User Agreements

It’s not an agreement if it’s forced on you. It might be a rule or a declaration or even a law, but it’s not an agreement if you don’t get the chance to agree to it.

The trend in online-enabled software these days is to have some kind of user agreement, generally that spells out if and how you can distribute the software as well as specifics on use. You agree, often by clicking a button, when you install the software or start the software. Usually, if you don’t agree, you’re kicked out of the software or prevented from installing it. That, I have no problem with, because you are prompted to agree or disagree. I also have no problem with this because you haven’t paid for anything at the point where the prompt occurs, or if you have, it’s generally easy enough to get a refund at that point.

My issue is with companies that change the user agreements at a moment’s notice, after the point of purchase, and remove services you previously had if you don’t agree. Specifically, the Nintendo Wii user agreement has been changed with the latest “software feature update” to state that Nintendo can update your system at any time and that the update may delete games or applications from your system at any time to “protect the safety” of the system. I do not want to agree to this, but if I don’t, my Wii will not function in the way that it was promised to function when I bought it.

Furthermore, if I do agree to the update, Nintendo may update their user agreement again at some later date without notifying me, as that is what is specified in the new user agreement. This further undermines the agreement. What’s more, I’m pretty sure that if I took my car to the dealership for maintenance and as part of that maintenance, without my agreement, they removed my custom radio and replaced it with a standard one, I’d have a legal claim. There is no law to protect consumers from that same sort of shenanigan in software, however.

In short, it’s not a user agreement; it’s a user edict. And it pisses me off.

I have not done the Twilight hack. I have not downloaded the Homebrew Channel. I haven’t really planned to do it, because the features I get aren’t worth the trouble to me (yet). So, I’m not the person that they have in mind in making this change. Nonetheless, I’m pissed off by it. Unfortunately, I have no effective way to express my grievance. I could stop buying Nintendo games, but my one purchase means little. I could write a letter, but again, it won’t mean anything. Nintendo has already dismissed my type as “geeks and Otaku.”

What’s worse to me is that the Homebrew Channel is not hurting Nintendo in any way. It is not sapping revenue from them. It doesn’t allow users to do anything that they shouldn’t already be able to do. Yet, Nintendo is going after it with a vengeance…seemingly just because it’s there.

I do not like this trend in user agreements. First, I’d appreciate the honesty of calling it what it is. Second, I want some consumer protection enacted that would protect software users from abuse of so-called agreements.

1 thought on “On So-Called User Agreements”

  1. Get that law degree and go after them. I’ll stand in line behind you.

    Recently our company established a “new” website on which we would make our “elections” for the upcoming benefits year. IOW they changed vendors for hosting that process.

    The new vendor required a “user agreement” prior to signing in with the “default” (altho personally identified) password. Unlike most I READ THESE THINGS. In paragraph 4 I noted the statement that I could “read our complete privacy policy here: Privacy Policy.” To me that implied that “Privacy Policy” was an active URL/link. Nope. Just words there. So how was I supposed to agree if I could read what I was agreeing to?

    Fortunately for me I screen-captured that section of the online page AND saved a txt copy of the agreement. I sent the capture and a snip showing Paragraph 4 to my HR rep and asked her to pass it up the line that the “agreement” was buggy and it needed fixing.

    Meanwhile I didn’t “sign up” because I couldn’t read the Privacy Policy of the website host company. 3 days later (and 4 calls with various company people, including top level HR) they had in various forms accused me of being too detail oriented, too picky, dishonest (claiming the link worked when I had proof that it didn’t at the time I was there), and various other ways of saying “it’s not our fault, it’s yours.”

    I have now “signed in” because FINALLY one of our HR people went to the host company’s HR and got me a “full copy” of the company’s privacy policy (which, btw, is specific to OUR company).

    What a run around.

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