11-09-12 - Rotten Systems

1. Excessively long and hidden contracts are the not-much-discussed open secret behind the destruction of consumer rights.

Anytime you do anything in America these days you are handed a fifty page contract (*) with all kinds of crazy clauses that nobody reads. And even if you do read it and object, what are you supposed to do? Not sign it? The competition has the exact same kind of abusive contract. As a consumer you can't choose to avoid them.

(* = if you are actually handed the real contract, that's rare and you should consider that company to be upstanding. In reality there is usually a clause somewhere that says "the full contract is available by request" and there's another 200 pages you don't know about that have even more exclusions. And even if you do request the full contract and actually get it, by the time you get it they've changed it and you no longer have the latest. And even if you like the terms you see and sign it, they'll change it the next day, and one of the clauses was "the agreement is superceded by changes to the contract" or some such. You may as well just sign a blank page that says "you may rape me however you choose" because they can always change the rules)

Tricky contracts are one of the forgotten evils behind the whole mortgage crisis. Asshole type-A republican types will say "it's your own fault if you don't read the fine print; you were given a contract and agreed to it, you have to live with it". Bullshit. We are all presented with reams of intentionally-obfuscated lawyer-speak, it is totally unreasonable to allow it.

There need to be laws about limitting the complexity of contracts. There need to be laws about limitting the amount of fine print in fee structures; pricing needs to be up front and standardized and clearly advertised.

Things like the classic "It's only $9.95 (with ten more monthly payments of 99 thousand)" should just be illegal, obviously. There's no social benefit in allowing that kind of advertising. The point of laws is to make a capitalist/social structure which is good for the people, and that kind of shit is not good; it's particularly bad for capitalists who want to play fair by selling a good product with an honest price.

The new evil in abusive contracts is of course software license agreements. These should just be completely illegal. You shouldn't be allowed to compel me to sign anything in order to use the product that I already bought. The purchase implies a standard obligation of functionality and indemnity, that should be the only agreement allowed. The standard indemnity laws should be updated a bit to reflect the modern age of software of course.

2. America desperately needs a real right-to-privacy law.

2.A. Government agencies should not be allowed to sell your personal information to corporations! (among others, the USPS does this, as do most state DMV's). This one is a super no-brainer.

2.B. No corporation should be allowed to sell your personal information without your explicit permission. But really what's really needed is :

2.C. Corporations should not be allowed to require any personal information beyond some bare minimum that can identify you. eg. they can ask for SSN and a password of your choosing, but they cannot ask for previous addresses or bank account numbers or etc.

2.D. It should be illegal to tie incentives to privacy violations. eg. club cards that give you discounts in exchange for giving up your privacy. Similarly lots of bills now give you a discount if you allow direct withdrawal from your bank account. Utilities often will allow you to not give your SSN, but only with a fee.

2.E. All privacy options must be set to max-privacy by default. Allowing increased privacy but requiring you to go through forms is no good.

2.F. You should be able to request deletion of all your records. eg. when you close a bank account, or from a doctor, or whatever, you should be able to say "please delete all your info on me" and they should be required by law to comply (if your accounts are in good standing blah blah blah).

3. I feel like the government-corporate complex is intentionally building this world structure in which you are locked into a variety of fixed fees which suck up all your income. (okay this part of the post is going off the deep end a bit)

You don't go work and get your money and then choose how to spend it. The corporate masters have auto-debit on your account and just suck it right out. I know this is retarded hyperbole, but it sort of feels like mining towns where you get paid scrip and then just have to give it right back at the company store, but in this case the company store is apple and the chinese-crap importers (target, walmart, gap, c&b, etc etc).

3.1. Health insurance is perhaps the most obvious; the cost of health care is ridiculously inflated, but that cost is hidden from you a bit (intentionally), so we're all just locked into paying out a massive amount monthly to the health care complex.

3.2. Car insurance is of course the same story. The car insurance companies very much want you to feel like "accidents are no big deal" ; hey lets all jump in our tanks with no visibility and smash into each other, no biggie, the car insurance pays for it. And in the mean time a huge government-required deduction slips out of your account every month.

3.3. Cell phones obviously; and Cable companies; these ones are semi-government-enforced monopolies, and basically not optional in modern life, you are just required by law to give them $200 every month. More and more software wants to move to subscription plans. Everyone is getting very clever about making the easy way out just being "give us lots of money every month automatically" , and you have to work harder and harder to actually be proactive about spending your money.

3.4. I actually think online purchasing is part of this and is changing the whole relationship people have with money. You very often no longer get to see the thing you are buying before you buy it. Then when it sucks, it's usually too much trouble to return it. The result is that the whole purchasing is more like "send money out into the ether and then products show up which I have no control over". It's almost like a constant tax, and then they give you some shitty products once in a while.


Blaine Allen Brown said...

I think "You should be allowed to compel me to sign anything in order to use the product that I already bought." in paragraph 7 should be "shouldn't."

Blaine Allen Brown said...

This post is great. It enumerates a lot of thoughts I've been having. At the end of my contract, I've been looking into new cell phone plans. When I calculate the monthly amount, I also include phone price and find the sum of the total 2-year plan. It's almost impossible to spend less than $6000 unless you forego web. And if you don't want web, your choice of phones is dramatically reduced. You can get a flip phone right out of 1999.

I also like the thing about USPS. I was wondering lately if I could stop them from allowing ads in my mailbox. My email is so clean! I hardly get any spam, and I get 1-2 emails a day from companies I actually want to know about. But my mailbox is constantly full of crap! Is there a "Do not bother" list for advertising? That would be nice.

cbloom said...

"But my mailbox is constantly full of crap! Is there a "Do not bother" list for advertising? That would be nice."

I don't believe there is one federally. Here in Seattle there was a law passed that let you decline phone book delivery, but just recently phone books were ruled to be "speech" and thus protected. Free speech is mostly good, but we're seeing some pretty negative results of it recently. (political spending ruled as speech, junk mail ruled as speech, etc)

cbloom said...

"I also like the thing about USPS. I was wondering lately if I could stop them from allowing ads in my mailbox."

BTW this is a good example of what I see as very standard in society/government these days.

There's the point that I believe is just basic reason :

1. I should be able to opt out of advertising. It should not be the right of anyone to send me paper or images with mind-warping lies on it.

Specifically, the USPS could just let you opt out of all mass-mailings.

Okay, that may be somewhat controversial. BUT there is an even more ridiculous point which is just mind boggling that we can't get traction on :

2. The USPS should not be in the business of spam. They literally sell your information to spammers and make profit from helping to spam you.

That's just insane and it seems to me an easier point to get changed. Government agencies' files on its citizens should be sacred and not used for such purposes.

old rants