Like Cheerios On Facebook? You May Be 'Liking' Away Your Right To Sue

Liking your favorite doughboy on Facebook just got a little scarier. General Mills, the company that makes Cheerios, Pillsbury products, and that raw cookie dough you're eating, just updated its terms of service to bar users who "like" them on Facebook from suing them, The New York Times reports.

Which is bad news for us regular people. Instead of bringing legal action against a company, consumers of General Mills products would now have to settle the issue over email. Or, they could settle it with the company through arbitration, a legal process that occurs outside the courts, which usually means it's not public. It's also really hard to appeal a decision made in arbitration.

Here's what the new small print reads:

These new provisions contain an agreement to resolve any and all disputes you may have with General Mills or any of its affiliated companies or brands contain through informal negotiations and, if these negotiations fail, through binding arbitration. ... All arbitrations will be conducted on an individual basis; you may not arbitrate as a member of a class. Claims may not be brought in court ...

After the Times contacted General Mills about the changes, they added even broader language to their site, clearly writing that the new policy does "require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration." That suggests you're not only giving up your right to sue when you "like" General Mills on Facebook. You might be giving it up just by eating Cheerios.

The decision to "update" the privacy policy comes hot on the heels of a judge's decision to continue to allow a case brought against the company regarding its packaging of Nature Valley granola bars, which claim to be 100 percent natural even though they contain ingredients that aren't. (They are, however, delicious.)

Giving up your right to sue a company is a big deal, but in the modern world we do it all the time. Most cell phone contracts, cable contracts, and lots of other services you probably need and use every day require that you sign away your right to sue on the dotted line. A General Mills statement to the Times suggested it's a run-of-the-mill terms update.

While it rarely happens, arbitration is an efficient way to resolve disputes — and many companies take a similar approach. We even cover the cost of arbitration in most cases. So this is just a policy update, and we’ve tried to communicate it in a clear and visible way.

But even though arbitration clauses are very common, they've yet to be applied to food to such a degree. Experts told the Times the new policy itself will probably be raised in the courts.