Oooooh, Sneaky, Uber!


Fine print alert!

Uber, the controversial  ride-sharing giant, quietly changed its terms of service to foist mandatory arbitration on its users. This is a common tactic of large corporations lately, taking away consumers’ rights to sue when they are harmed due to negligence. Arbitration is often full of hidden biases, with a natural  financial motivation for less-than-ethical arbitrators to tilt in the direction of the companies that pay them.

The change means that a passenger injured in an Uber vehicle due to its driver’s negligence would be required to arbitrate any claims for personal injuries before the American Arbitration Association, because the passenger had technically agreed to the terms and conditions of the Uber contract every passenger must accept. How would  long-time customers know about the change from the original Uber conditions? They wouldn’t, unless they regularly cruised the company’s website.

On July 29, 2016, Judge Rakoff from the Southern District of New York ruled that the notice of Uber arbitration terms was not sufficient to let riders know that  they were waiving the right to sue, and thus the mandatory arbitration provision was unenforceable. Uber’s response was to send an email to its users, announcing that it was updating its terms effective November 21, 2016.  Uber also instructed its users to read the new Terms and stated it had “revised our arbitration agreement.”  Now they have you, because Uber users can no longer claim that they didn’t know about the new terms. When you use the service, you are stuck. You have waived the right to sue.

There is a large “but,” however.

An Uber user can still reject the November 21, 2016 Terms by providing Uber with written notice by mail, by hand delivery or by email within 30 days of November 21, 2016. Like many companies, Uber’s “notice” consists of a hard-to-find section on its website. The mechanics of rejecting the new terms information are virtually buried on Uber’s legal page, and read, Continue reading

Not Every Disappointment Is Cable TV Or Social Media Fodder: The Case of The Dry Artificial Leg



In the old days, the saying was “You don’t have to make a federal case out of it.” Today it would be “You don’t have to put it on the internet.”

At Frontier City’s Wild West Water Works in Oklahoma City, a family objected strenuously because their 8-year-old daughter’s prosthetic leg caused her to be banned from the water slide. The attendant stopped the family at the entrance to the ride, explaining that park policy prevented individuals with prosthetic limbs from sliding because it risked scratching the sides of the slide. The family decided to make a federal case out of it, and the dispute ended up on in the local media, then the national media, then the internet, then social media

The complaint was that the park didn’t have this restriction listed. Okay, good point. That doesn’t mean they were obligated to let the daughter scratch the slide with her leg. I can imagine other perils of sliding with an artificial limb that neither the park nor its insurance carrier would want to risk. It’s a shame the little girl was embarrassed and disappointed. My son was once similarly disappointed when a ride he wanted to go on had a height requirement. Too bad. I didn’t make a federal case out of it. Not every restriction can be listed on park signs; the longer the text, the fewer people read it.

The family of the rejected girl, however, did make a federal case out of it. They got the news media involved, and soon the park was putting out this:

“Our goal at Frontier City is to create family fun and fond memories for each of our guests while placing a priority on guest safety. Our Ride Admission Policy has been developed in consultation with industry professionals, based on the recommendations of the ride manufacturer, past experiences, and evaluations of each ride using knowledge of the ride in all operating conditions.Like many water parks across the United States, regulations regarding loose articles and medical assistance devices are enforced to ensure the safety of each guest. Unfortunately, we can’t allow loose articles, swimwear with exposed metal ornamentation, casts, certain limb braces, or prosthetic devices on certain slides at Wild West Water Works.We never want to refuse our guests the opportunity to enjoy our attractions, but we must also always follow guidelines that have been set by our industry to insure the safety of all guests. To avoid any confusion or heartache in the future, we will strive to make sure this is communicated better in advance by adding the restrictions to our website and ride signage. We deeply regret any disappointment caused to our guests due to our Ride Admission Policies. Again, our first priority is guest safety and our mission is to provide the best experience possible for all of our guests.”

The park sounds completely reasonable, professional and fair. But one family had to react to a minor disappointment by casting the Frontier City as a heartless villain and their child as a victim, resulting in dozens of news stories across the country, blog commentary and Facebook posts. Some things are not worth making a fuss about. Some things should be handled with a shrug, a quiet suggestion of a better way to handle things in the future, agracious goodbye and maybe a letter afterwards.. Every minor dispute doesn’t have to be the Battle of Waterloo.

I fear we are raising a generation of entitled and hair-triggered victim-mongerers, armed with little cameras and video recorders, ready at any provocation to turn every mistake, disagreement, disappointment or ill-considered glance into 15 minutes of infamy for anyone unfortunate enough to cross their paths. In the future we will all be spending so much time apologizing to each other and explaining to the media what we meant that it will be increasingly impossible to just live. The insatiable web and 24-hour news cycle makes shaming a constant threat to the most minor offender, and gives everyone the power, under the right conditions, to bend others to their will.

But I guess that dystopian hell will be worth it if the next child with an artificial leg knows she can’t use the water slide at Wild West Water Works before she gets to the top.


Pointer: Fred

Facts: KFOR


The Eternal Ethics Conflict: Drawing Lines, Enforcing Them


Yesterday traffic caused me to arrive a bit later than usual at my monthly gig as the instructor in the legal ethics portion of the D.C. Bar’s mandatory orientation session for new admittees. It was after 9 AM (my segment starts at 9:20), and as I approached the glass doors to the lecture hall lobby, I saw a distraught women angrily berating one of the D.C. Bar staff. I knew instantly what was going on.

You see, the courts approving the program insist that every attendee be there at the start: the doors close at 9, and anyone arriving late, no matter what the reason, is out of luck. They can’t attend the session, can’t get credit for it, and have to return the following month. That rule is on the website and in all communications with the Bar, along with the warning that there are no exceptions, and no effective excuses. Every month, someone misses the deadline; every month, that person goes ballistic. This women, however, was remarkable.

She had flown to D.C. on the redeye, she said. Her cab was stuck in traffic, and when she arrived in the cavernous Reagan Building where the day-long course takes place, she had ten minutes to spare. Unfortunately, the Reagan Building eats people. I have wandered its halls lost many times. I keep expecting to encounter a bearded, Ben Gunn-like figure who grabs my pant leg and jabbers about how he’s been trapped by the bewildering signage, and has been living off of Cub Scouts since 1992. The woman made it to the right hall in just 12 minutes, which is impressive without a GPS. But she was still two minutes late. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Someone Explain To Senator Tillis That It’s Unethical To Make People Sick On Principle”


Refusing to rest on his laurels, recently crowned Ethics Alarms “Commenter of the Year” texagg04 delivers a helpful, clarifying, erudite examination of the balancing process brought into play with the regulation of businesses for health and safety reasons. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post “Someone Explain To Senator Tillis That It’s Unethical To Make People Sick On Principle”:

Let’s unpackage this.

Purchasing Products and Services

When we buy a product or service, we don’t just buy the end result. We buy a long string of tasks leading up to that final product and sometimes we buy even more things than just the final product*. In this instance, that doesn’t just mean the food on your plate, as tasks, upon deep consideration are actually HUMONGOUS things that are composed of the Time necessary to complete, Material either used up in preparation or as a component of the end item, Personnel Knowledge needed to perform, Equipment which facilitates, and Space needed to complete the task.. You don’t purchase just the food. You purchase the time and care EACH employee puts into the process. From Day 1, you purchase the time a procurer makes a deal with a vendor OR personally hand selects the ingredients of your meal. You purchase the time and quality of the food storage in the pantry/refrigerator. You purchase the chef’s level of knowledge. You purchase the time he devotes to ensuring the burners are a certain temperature. You purchase the manager’s level of knowledge in keeping things efficient and cost effective. You purchase EACH AND EVERY action the server takes that could affect the final, tangible product or service. Continue reading

Someone Explain To Senator Tillis That It’s Unethical To Make People Sick On Principle

Thom Tillis

Where do Republicans find these people?

Tillis said he was then asked whether he thought establishments serving food shouldn’t be required by law to have employees wash their hands after using the restroom, and that means using the bathroom in ways that require them to handle their genitals and be in close contact with urine and fecal matter. (Sometimes euphemisms just won’t do.)

Tillis said he responded that that would still be preferable to having the government dictate policy, saying ‘”I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says “We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom.”

Then, he said, the market would work.

Sen. Tillis was serious.

Did I already ask where Republicans find these people? How about why they find these people? Or why anyone with sufficient IQ to play a can of okra to a draw in Stratego would vote for these people?

So we must conclude from this hilarious anecdote that this high-ranking Republican doesn’t just oppose excessively burdensome regulations, but even regulations requiring conduct that no sane and responsible person could possibly oppose, because it is preferable as a matter of ideological principle for the almighty market to work its magic instead, however long it takes and however much projectile vomiting results in the meantime. Right, Senator? And if it takes three, or ten, or a thousand instances of serious illness or death for the “How about some bacteria with your muffin?” establishments to be run out of business, well, that’s just the price of freedom.

I don’t even know if “unethical” is an accurate description of this position.. It passes irresponsible, laps it ten times, and goes right on to insane. Will there be regulations requiring that sign telling customers that they can expect the delightful taste of turd with their meals be printed in large enough type to read? Or mandating that it be on all pages of the menus, and not on the back? Well, that would be silly: if you are going to pass a law about having to inform your customers that you hire human pigs as cooks and servers, you might as well just pass the law saying they have to wash their hands, and that’s an affront to liberty. So we should also let the market favor the restaurants with servers dripping urine from their fingers that prominently warn diners about their yellow food enhancement over those who put the information in fine print on the napkins. That seems consistent with Senator Tillis’s principles.

Hey, how about dental hygienists? Should they have to wash their hands or wear gloves? If a patient gets sick and dies because they missed seeing the sign, does that bar a lawsuit? It might, since there was a warning, like on cigarette packages. Should laws make nurses and hospital employees wash their hands? Presumably Tillis wants the market system to work in hospitals too, wouldn’t you think? My mother was in the hospital for a minor urinary infection, some employee didn’t wash his or her hands, and she was infected with a bug that ate her colon away and killed her. I have to say, Tillis is right, though: the market system works; I won’t send my mother to that hospital again.

Of course, I don’t have a mother now.

After the session, the moderator joked to Tillis, “I’m not sure I’m gonna shake your hand.” HAHAHAHAHA!!! Funny! What isn’t funny is that we elect people as doctrinaire, rigid, dim-witted, smug and dangerous as Thom Tillis to make our laws and protect our health, safety and welfare, elected officials who really think American citizens dying unnecessarily is less of of a burden on society than reasonable government regulations.

The rule often cited here is “When ethics fail, the law takes over.” “When ethics fail, the market takes over” is not a rule, because the market doesn’t care about right and wrong.


Facts and Graphic: Talking Points Memo


Ethics Dunce: Florida Highway Patrol

Huge Manatee

Do you recall the post last week about the brain-dead reaction of various website commenters to the Florida arrest prosecution of a man for harassing a manatee?

If they had been commenting about this incident, they would have been on firm logical and ethical ground.

Anthony Brasfield and his girlfriend shared a carefree, romantic interlude one Sunday morning in the parking lot of the Motel 6 on Dania Beach Boulevard, as they released a dozen red and silver mylar heart-shaped balloons and watched them rise, up, up, up into the air, then slowly float away, high and far, until they became tiny specks against the blue. They squeezed each other’s hands, smiled, and…got arrested by a Florida highway patrol state trooper on the spot.

Brasfield was charged with the environmental crime of helium pollution, under the Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Act.Aggravating the offense apparently was the fact that endangered marine turtle species and birds make their abode in John U. Lloyd State Park, about 1.5 miles east of the motel. The third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison. Continue reading

The Twin Cities, Cheating CitizensTo Balance Their Budgets

I'm confused...I thought the police were supposed to arrest con artists, not be con artists!

Municipal governments are having a difficult time balancing budgets in these challenging economic conditions, but the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota have devised a surprisingly effective way to pick up oodles of extra cash.

Steal it.
From its citizens.

I’m not kidding. City records show that St. Paul, for example, has kept nearly a quarter-million dollars from impound lot auctions this year that should have properly gone to vehicle owners. But the law requires the car owners to ask for their money, and both St. Paul and Minneapolis do their level best to keep that information from trickling through all the documentation and red tape. The St. Paul Police Department, which runs the St. Paul impound lot, sends owners of impounded vehicles a certified letter shortly after their car is towed. The letter includes citations to one city ordinance and five state laws that govern the towing, impoundment and auction of vehicles. Car owners  have to look up the fifth state law cited and read that law’s fourth paragraph before learning of the right to a refund. And to do that, they have to know what they should be looking for—which the letter doesn’t tell them.

Cute, eh? Continue reading

Ten Ethics Questions for the Pat-Down Defenders

I, like you, have been reading and listening to my various “My Obama, may he always be right, but my Obama, right or wrong” friends try to argue that having TSA agents sexually assault non-consenting adults is a perfectly reasonable and benign exercise of government power. I, like you, am tired of the posturing and excuse making. Their arguments, in essence, all boil down to: a) they have no choice b) they have our best interests at heart c) it’s no big deal, and 4) trust them, they know what they are doing.

I suggest that you, as I will, pose the following questions to your trusting friends, perhaps beginning with a preliminary query regarding whether they themselves have undergone the humiliating and invasive pat-down procedure that they so willingly approve of for others.

Then ask them these: Continue reading

Note to Ethics Alarms Readers: No More Ads! (And I’m Sorry It Took So Long For Me To Kill Them)

Dear Ethics Alarms Readers,

As discussed here last week, I only recently learned that WordPress has been planting ads in Ethics Alarms according to some mysterious formula. Whatever it is, the formula managed to keep me in the dark and deface my blog, giving some readers the impression that I had approved of, or profited from the ads. I never saw them, nor did WordPress ever give me notice what the ads were, how they were being placed, or that they were being run at all. Some of the ads, I learned, were for products that I find objectionable: for example, Barack Obama-mocking T-shirts in questionable taste.

Without checking to make sure, because it is pointless, I will stipulate that somewhere in the vast number of Conditions of Use provisions I must have agreed to at some point in time now lost to posterity, there must have been a statement in fine print giving WordPress permission to do all this. Had I read it, I would have probably agreed to it anyway, and would still be in the same position today, coming late to the realization that because I never saw ads on Ethics Alarms doesn’t mean some readers aren’t. I take full responsibility for this, and I apologize. I have a duty to you, just like WordPress has a duty to me. It should have kept me informed, particularly when their conduct affected the content of my website. It didn’t.

Anyway, I have paid the 30 bucks that buys me, and you, a year of ad-free content. If you see another ad on Ethics Alarms, please let me know. And There Will Be Blood.

Thank you for your patience, passion, loyalty and understanding. In the year since Ethics Alarms began, we have begun to build a diverse community of readers who constantly surprise, challenge, amuse and enlighten me with its insight and opinion on ethics and related matters. I know I don’t express my appreciation to all of you frequently enough; I will try to do better.


Jack Marshall

WordPress Ethics, Or How Offensive Obama T-Shirt Ads Ended Up On My Blog

WordPress supplies a versatile and useful product that is user-friendly (if I can manage it, believe me, it is user-friendly), inexpensive, and well-serviced. It also seems to be diligent about supplying regular information, which is especially important to me. So many companies, and especially the government, regularly surprise me with unpleasant, disrupting, or costly changes in what they provide that I only learn about by accident, or when they start causing me trouble.

A few months back, for example, Direct TV gave me no-charge charge access to HBO, just a couple of months after I had canceled it. There was no notice about this, and as a result, we didn’t watch the network at all for some time, since we didn’t know we were receiving the signal. It was puzzling that the access to HBO just appeared, and when it had hung around a few months, I decided to look at the bill, which we paid automatically. Now, I discovered, we were being charged for HBO, which I had just canceled.

When I called Direct TV, the representative apologized, took off the charge, credited me with a past months charge before I had realized what had happened, and removed HBO. He also gave me a long explanation about why this had happened, which boils down to this: when your service is interrupted (as it was several months ago; I was late with a bill payment), it is my responsibility to tell Direct TV what channels I was getting before the interruption, or it might just slip in premium channels without telling me when it reconnects my service. Is this written anywhere? No, it isn’t.

I no longer trust Direct TV.

I don’t trust the Transportation Security Administration, either. Last week, in the middle of a trip that involved several flights, I set off the gate alarm, as is my custom (I have a metal hip), and prepared for the ceremonial wanding. But this time, it wasn’t a wanding; oh no no no! It was a bona fide, full-body, rough massage feel-up that included a sprightly hello to my throat, rear-end, and naughty bits. In many cities, such stimulation would have cost me a pretty penny, though only if it were not performed by a large, heavy, middle-aged guy named Carl, as mine was. Yes, in rapid response to the underwear bomber, whose attempted act of terrorism was more than a year ago, TSA has now instituted new pat-down procedures designed to determine, among other things, what’s in your BVDs. There was no advance notice of this to flyers, of course, until I was actually at the feel-up point of no return, having made my meeting schedule and bought my non-refundable ticket. In fact, the new procedures had been instituted mid-day, after I had taken a flight including the usual game of Wand Me.

Now, back on the ground, I learn that some readers of my WordPress blog see a string of Google Ads in the text, ads triggered by key words and automatically generated. Continue reading