U.K. will investigate Microsoft for consumer rights violations

An investigation by the U.K.'s National Consumer Council has recommended that Microsoft and 16 other software companies be investigated for unfair practices related to End User License Agreements (EULAs). The investigation found that as a result of the way the EULA are designed and written, consumers agree to unfair terms, and sign away their legal rights without realizing it.

The NCC report found that software companies, including Microsoft, "mislead computer users into signing away legal rights." It concludes that Microsoft and other software companies, "are shifting the legal burden onto consumers who buy computer programmes, leaving them with less protection than when they buy a cheap biro (pen)."

According to the NCC report:

The survey found a widespread lack of clear, upfront information written in plain English. More than half of the 25 products surveyed did not mention on the packaging that the consumer has to sign an end user licence agreement (EULA) before they can use it.
Among the offending products are Microsoft's Microsoft Office for Mac standard edition) 2004, and Microsoft Office 2007 (standard edition).

Microsoft isn't alone in their practices; the NCC is recommending that 16 other companies be investigated as well. Here's the entire list: Adobe, Microsoft, Apple, Chief Architect, Symantec, Magix, Nero, Corel, Sega, Nova Development, Britannica, Sonic Solutions, Twelve Tone Systems, THQ, GSP, McAfee, and Kaspersky.

Here are the main examples of EULA problems the report found:

* complex wording and widespread use of legal jargon

* legal uncertainty, with frequent references to legislation in other countries

* immediate contract termination rights for the provider

* the right for the provider to remove services without notice

* ambiguous references to ‘statutory rights’

* restrictions on the transfer of the users’ rights to a third party

* excessive exclusion of liability.

Does any of this surprise you? Me, neither. No one I know bothers to the read incomprehensible legal rules embedded in a EULA before installing software. They take for granted that the game is fixed against them. The NCC is asking that the European Commission investigate, and has also referred the matter to the UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT). I'm not sure if anything will come of it, but here's hoping it will. If you want to read the full report, by the way, here's where to get it.

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