General Mills’ New Policies To Prevent Online Followers From Suing Could Backfire


General Mills

General Mills is behind some of the largest food brands on the planet, and yesterday published a questionable update to its Privacy Policy and Legal Terms.

First reported by the New York Times, the company implemented new clauses that forfeit online followers’ rights to sue.

According to the updated Legal Terms, you accept the agreement by doing any of the following:

“In exchange for the benefits, discounts, content, features, services, or other offerings that you receive or have access to by using our websites, joining our sites as a member, joining our online community, subscribing to our email newsletters, downloading or printing a digital coupon, entering a sweepstakes or contest, redeeming a promotional offer, or otherwise participating in any other General Mills offering.”

Basically, that can include interacting with General Mills by simply liking their Facebook page, or entering a contest on Twitter.

Where it gets sketchy is the section under “binding arbitration,” and how disputes must first be resolved through informal means, with rights being forfeited under the discretion of an arbitrator after a matter cannot be settled informally.

I spoke with attorney Elizabeth Potts Weinstein about the updated policies, and here’s what she had to say:

“Sounds like General Mills wants to enforce an agreement that will never be read by anyone, that people don’t know about, and that customers don’t actually manifest agreement to in any way. They got bad legal advice. I doubt any court will enforce that arbitration clause. Even online, the contract law still applies, which means that contracts need to have “mutual asset” (mutual agreement) to be enforceable.”

Weinstein referenced a case from 2012 involving e-commerce company Zappos, and how it failed to enforce an arbitration clause on customers “since there was no evidence that any customer actually accepted that contract, there was no agreement and the terms were unenforceable.”

In order for General Mills, and other companies to make such terms enforceable, Weinstein shared a quick tip:

“Best practice is for the company to actually capture evidence of the agreement, in the form of an online signature (using EchoSign or RightSignature), or at least automatically capturing the name/email/IP address/date/time. “

Photo credit: General Mills


Mike Stenger

Lover of technology, Mike often makes jokes that nobody laughs at.

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