eBay's "connecting buyers and sellers globally" motto may not have the same ring to it next week when its new user policy goes into effect.
In the section titled, "Legal Disputes," eBay informs users that "any claim or dispute at law or equity...will be resolved in accordance with the provisions set for in this Legal Disputes Section."
It goes on to lay out how legal disputes will be resolved:
"[Any] and all disputes or claims that have arisen or may arise between you and eBay shall be resolved exclusively through final and binding arbitration, rather than in court, except that you may assert claims in small claims court, if your claims qualify."
It's this point that has the online auction website facing petitions from rights groups like Public Citizen, which said the terms of service force users to give up their ability to join together and take eBay to court.
"Companies that respect and value their consumers don't trick them into giving up their rights," said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman in a statement on the rights group's website.
"Most eBay users accept the take-it-or-leave-it contract language without reviewing it, and most don't understand that the forced arbitration clause means they will be shut out of court if they are harmed by company misconduct, particularly when large numbers of users each suffer small-dollar losses," he added.
The solution, according to Weissman in an open letter, is for eBay to "drop its plans to keep aggrieved users from banding together and bringing their claims in court."
Opt-out is possible, but not easy
It is possible to opt out of eBay's forced arbitration clause, but as Public Citizen pointed out, the method is rather archaic.
"The only way people can opt out is by signing and sending a letter by traditional snail-mail - a strange requirement for a company whose entire business platform is online."
"To put it charitably," Weissman said, "eBay's requirement that opt-outs be submitted through traditional mail raises questions about the sincerity of its commitment to permitting users to protect themselves."
For its part, eBay told CNET that "the arbitration provision encourages swift and reasonable resolution as opposed to litigation that can be protracted, expensive and often dissatisfying to customers.
"We believe this approach will benefit both eBay Inc. and our customers."
All of a sudden, the online website's ban on spells and potions doesn't seem like that big of blow to its users' freedoms anymore.
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