The General Mills Website Legal Terms - A Look Under The Hood.

Apr 23, 2014 4:23:34 PM

Over the past week, General Mills, one of the largest food companies in the US, made a controversial update to its website legal terms that purported to prevent its consumers from suing it (rather requiring them to submit disputes via "informal negotiation" or arbitration). After the NY Times published a series of articles about the change, General Mills pulled the new terms due to concerns and misunderstandings expressed by many consumers. The new website legal terms posted by General Mills supposedly were intended to apply to consumers downloading coupons, “joining its online communities,” participating in sweepstakes and other promotions, and interacting with General Mills in a variety of other ways online. General Mills employed a pop-up box on its home page, stating that use of the site would “require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.” [FYI - Companies like to require arbitration as a means for settling disputes as a means of preventing class action lawsuits]

Ignoring for now that the new terms people were concerned with were extremely broad and possibly unenforceable, it is interesting to look at how General Mills implements and tracks its website legal agreements.

The main General Mills website has links in the footer to Legal Terms, Privacy Policy and Community Rules (these are browsewrap agreements). When I browse to GeneralMills.com, those terms don't show up on my monitor - I need to scroll down to see them. That doesn't look like constructive notice that my use of the site is subject to certain legal terms (which means those website legal terms might not be enforceable simply by virtue of visiting the site).

All of these website legal terms appear to be referenced on other sites owned/operated by General Mills (Cheerios.com, BettyCrocker.com...etc). Sometimes they are employed as browsewrap agreements (go to Cheerios.com, scroll waaaay down to the bottom, and you'll see links that take you back to the website legal agreements referenced above on GeneralMills.com), sometimes they are employed as clickwrap agreements (which you can see if you try to sign up for a newsletter, download a coupon...etc). None of the clickwraps employ all of the best practices for clickwrap agreements that PactSafe recommends. For example, this clickwrap agreement does not present the applicable website legal terms on the page, but rather awkwardly provides links to them in non-conspicuous text below the form. Not ideal.

One also wonders how all of this is tracked among all of these sites. Linking all of the website legal agreement references back to one site is a good idea in terms of managing modifications and the content of the website legal agreements. But with implementations and placements of all these website legal agreements differing from site to site, form to form, enforcement may vary from site to site, form to form. I didn't check every General Mills site, but if there are other website legal agreements NOT tied back to GeneralMills.com - how are all of those managed and tracked? How is acceptance of those website legal agreements tracked and linked back to various versions of those website legal agreements [Note - I don't see any dates on the Legal Terms or any references to prior versions].

Lots of questions about this crazy web of website legal agreements on the General Mills sites.

Brian Powers

Written by Brian Powers

PactSafe CEO & Founder