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BW Businessworld

Uber Ugly Fine Print

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Imagine going to a much heralded restaurant that offers the finest cuisine in an elevating ambience. As a consumer you would be confident that that this restaurant can do no wrong. And if it did, the restaurant would compensate. But what if the restaurant had a fine print clause in its bill saying that any problems arising out of the dining experience or the quality of food is the responsibility of the server only. That the restaurant is only an aggregator of servers and chefs who deliver food on its premises.

This fictional example may seem over the top in the wake of the Uber cab crisis but something is like is already happening. Some hotels and restaurants have a fine print that makes consumers liable for posting honest disparaging remarks on sites like TripAdvisor. If the hotel finds an honest experience disparaging, its lawyers will send you a notice charging you for the remark.

In its emailed promised to consumers Uber promises “each of our driver partners are put through a rigorous quality control process,” according to a report in Indian Express. But in the agreement on the app Uber refuses to take responsibility for the acts of “third party” drivers.

See what Ola Cabs says: “Company makes no representation or warranty that:
a. the Services will meet the customer’s requirements;
b. the Services will be uninterrupted, timely, secure, or error-free.”

Really?

After spending millions about the joys of using their cabs, another cab company TaxiforSure will not accept any liability for actions of TPSP or third party service providers (drivers).

What if every company set up such rules. Hotels, airlines and other business can say that they don’t accept the liability for the food made by the chef or the flight crashed by the pilot?

Cab companies and hotels are not alone. Pick up any product or service and read the fine print. Most of it will put you off as a consumer.

This is more prevalent among online organisations. Consumer ire against companies like Google and Facebook is rising for these reasons. There is a whole body of work being done on End User License Agreements (EULAs) that often force consumers to accept ridiculous conditions for simple services. Some of these EULAs limit the financial liability and even outline the jurisdiction for dispute. Some of the fine print is needed to protect the company against needless legal action. But many companies are using the fine print to absolve themselves of their accountability. The tendency to escape responsibility is increasing among new generation companies.

Private equity players and institutional investors are driving this widening seam of irresponsibility. They encourage companies to come up with innovative EULAs to limit liability. The argument that new business models should not be held down by old laws does not wash. There is a commercial contract between service/product provider and the consumer. The fine print is meant to avoid the liability of the poor delivery. But there is a deeper social contract where a consumer puts her faith in the claims made by the corporation. Legal clauses can’t undermine the ethical commitment to provide and care for the consumers’ interest.

Fine print can’t be on the wrong side of ethical business practice. Don’t blame servers for bad food cooked in a restaurant.

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