It Depends On How You Define Free


Now I know how Bill Clinton felt during his 1998 Grand Jury testimony on the Monica Lewinsky incident.  When asked if a statement he made to his attorney in which he said “there is absolutely no sex of any kind, manner, shape, or form” was true, Clinton’s response was “it depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

Like everybody else, I laughed when I heard it.  Then I recently responded to a pop-up on the internet that offered a “Free” sample of haircare products.  I usually ignore internet solicitations of any kind, manner, shape, or form, but that day I was having a particularly bad hair day .  I couldn’t refuse.

The offer said all I had to do was pay $4.95 for shipping and handling.  Cool, I thought, I’ll pay the freight.  I scanned the screen for any mention of “terms” … the fine print where you sign away your first born and you get super volumizing shampoo, conditioner, spray gel, and miracle restoration cream in return.  There was no mention of terms.  Usually when you’re signing away the heir to your fortune a new screen pops up where you have to click on “Agree,” but not this time.  I paid my $4.95 and waited for my magical goo to arrive in the mail.

About five days later the package was in my mailbox.

About two weeks later, another box from the same company arrived.  It appeared that the manufacturer had placed me on their “automated delivery” program.  I called the 800 number and was told that I had not returned the “free” products and had therefore “agreed” to receive and pay for automated shipments.  “How much is this stuff,” I asked.  “$98.00” said the call center rep.

After I stopped laughing, I told the rep that I had not agreed to any such purchase, that I had not clicked on an “Agree” button and for that matter, I was never “asked” if I agreed.  She fired back with a well-rehearsed speech about how their company has no “fine print” or “deceptive advertising practices.”  She said that the company does not give “free samples,” although the site clearly had a HUGE BRIGHT GREEN “FREE!” plastered front an center.  She then read to me a statement that claimed there were three places where their practices were clearly explained.

While I don’t doubt that somewhere, embedded in the HTML content of their web site was some explanation of what they expected from the suckers who jumped on the “free” stuff offer.  Maybe it was hidden under the GIANT “FREE!” that lured me to bite.

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