Montreal Gazette


By now I've probably committed to more legal agreements than the World Bank


We all agree that:

a) We spend far too much time online, clicking the words “I AGREE” on our devices.

b) We almost never really agree when we say “I agree.”

Every time I look at an online magazine, hotel, theatre or electronic­s site — or just order, say, marshmallo­ws online — I must now click “I agree” to the “terms of privacy” and ACCEPT ALL COOKIES.

By now, I have probably agreed to more legal agreements than the World Bank. Yet like more than 90 per cent of people, I rarely read what I'm agreeing to.

I know that even when I do not agree and take 10 minutes to “manage my cookies” and choose my “privacy preference­s” — carefully ticking off various choices — they'll just ask me again next day.

So it's more like saying “I surrender” than “I agree.”

Supposedly, this absurdly repetitive task is to help “protect our privacy.” But maintainin­g our privacy has become a vast, never-ending task, like Sisyphus pushing the boulder forever uphill before it always tumbles down.

Only we're all pushing cookies that never arrive at our door.

Please note: By continuing to read this column, you automatica­lly agree/authorize/consent to whatever, whenever, and whichever, forever. This is binding on your heirs and successors.

As if online harassment weren't enough, they've now begun torturing us on the phone, too.

Several times recently, before I could speak to a call-centre agent at my TV, phone and insurance providers, I had to hear a longish legal recording and give my consent.

Yet nothing prepared me for a phone experience with my bank last week, where I landed in I-agree-hell.

My credit card had expired and to renew it I had to answer some bank security questions in a surreal phone exchange.

A nice Bank Lady explained that under recently updated regulation­s to “protect” me, I would have to listen to various legal recordings and agree to each.

She apologized for this, then played the first in a long series of droning, monotone voice recordings. It was a 60-second-plus tape, reciting the bank's “policies and obligation­s” for reward points, which I had to agree to although I'd chosen a card without rewards.

Another long recording was about their “air mile” terms, although I don't have those on this card, either.

There were longer tapes about my “right to know about other bank card options,” although the Bank Lady had already explained these to me and I'd declined.

In between recordings, she apologized repeatedly for this tape torture, forced upon us by government, banks and The Global “Make-lawyers-rich-by-multiplyin­g-bureaucrac­y” Conspiracy.

“I know this isn't fun for you,” she said. “But imagine, I have to listen to these all day long and I'm not permitted to turn on mute.”

I sympathize­d and suggested she get a Tetris video game to entertain herself while listening.

“That's a good idea,” she replied. “I'm going to ask my son to find his old one when I go home tonight because it's starting to get to me.”

She apologized again and played more droning recordings about their interest rates, mortgage purchase rates and penalties if I “lost the card, misused the card,” or maybe swallowed the card and needed surgery to remove it.

It was an endless torrent of bafflegab no living creature could withstand awake, except lawyers billing by the hour. It felt like mental waterboard­ing and I murmured “I agree, I agree, I agree,” like a captive.

After two especially interminab­le recordings, she said that since I lived in Quebec, the government required me to hear the same recordings repeated again in French.

“No, please!” I begged. “I agree! I agree to anything!”

But she said it was mandatory. So I had to listen again and “ACCEPTER LES COOKIES” as well.

Overall, I spent half an hour listening to more than a dozen recordings just to renew a credit card I've always paid on time at my bank of 45 years.

Worse, according to many experts these new “agreements” almost entirely protect the banks, not us consumers. That's because they've had 1,000 lawyers refine the fine print to ensure we can't understand it.

What next to “protect” us? When getting married, will we have to listen to a dozen recordings on the privacy “terms and conditions” of matrimony? To buy vegetables, will supermarke­ts force us to hear the cashier recite “the spoilage terms of lettuce and eggplant”?

When the final tape was over, I sighed with relief. I was free at last, though like a Russian gulag survivor I know I can be imprisoned again any time.

I have escaped, but I keep thinking of the poor Bank Lady I left behind. I hope her son found that Tetris game.

Please note: The usage agreement for this column has been updated, so if any informatio­n in this text is faulty, it is WHOLLY and SOLELY the fault of the reader, not the author. (See Appendix 17, b-53, Clause 27-f )

If you feel this is all unfair, the author wishes you to know the following: “I AGREE.” Joshfreed4­

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