We Need More Teri Goldsteins

The Computer Corner

Readers need to know that this week it was fully my intention to cease and desist excoriating Microsoft Corporation, at least temporarily, over its botched introduction of Windows 10, but an item in the news is too important to let pass without comment.

While Microsoft says more than 300 million Windows users have now upgraded to Windows 10, for a very small percentage of them, including Teri Goldstein of Sausalito, California, the upgrade has been a disaster. One need only Google “Teri Goldstein Microsoft” to get all the details, but long story made short is that an attempt to upgrade Teri’s computer to Windows 10 trashed it and for weeks made it very difficult for her travel agency to do business. Microsoft tech support gave up attempting to fix the damage and told Teri not to call again. When Microsoft offered US$150 to settle what Teri claimed to be US$17,000 in losses, she decided to sue.

She showed up in small claims court well prepared to document the damages her business had suffered as a result of the botched Windows 10 upgrade. Microsoft sent a young employee from their local store to dismissively claim that Teri had given up all her legal rights as a consumer, including the right to sue, when she clicked on [I agree]. The judge chose not to see it that way and awarded Teri US$10,000 in damages. California is one of the strictest states in the US with regard to consumer rights.

Microsoft said in a statement that it would not appeal the ruling, to avoid legal costs. That is only a half-truth because the reality is that dozens of other software makers must have been screaming at Microsoft to settle the case and make it go away quickly. The reason is that establishing a precedent in a higher court could risk endangering one of the sacred cows of the entire software industry, known as the “shrink wrap contract.”

A shrink-wrap contract is what is created when the consumer buys software in a package that says on the outside that by opening the package you agree to the contract inside. Inside there is a notice stating that you have just agreed to hold the software company completely blameless if their product does not work or if it causes you any damages. Clicking on the [I agree] button when installing software has the same legal effect.

 

The typical software End User License Agreement asserts extensive liability limitations for direct as well as consequential damages. The legal status of shrink wrap contracts in the US is somewhat unclear and that is exactly the way the software industry wants to keep it. To my knowledge no other industry in history has ever been able to get away with such abrogation of responsibility.

Teri Goldstein is urging other consumers to fight back. If enough consumers follow her courageous lead then perhaps Microsoft might finally start to pay attention to its customers.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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