Fine-Print Gotchas: Which Ones Actually Hurt?
In my post yesterday about T-Mobile's G1 phone, the first to run Google's Android software, we got into a brief discussion in the comments about a fine-print restriction on the use of this carrier's embryonic 3G mobile-broadband network.
As a perspicacious reader noted, T-Mobile says it will enforce a 1-gigabyte-a-month limit on users of the G1:
If your total data usage in any billing cycle is more than 1GB, your data throughput for the remainder of that cycle may be reduced to 50 kbps or less.
That makes the 5-gigabytes-a-month caps imposed by such competitors as Verizon Wireless look positively generous. This policy could easily be the single most restrictive user agreement in the entire broadband-Internet industry -- and yet T-Mobile chooses to spell it out in the smallest font on that page.
But while you can give this carrier credit for audacity, you can't tout its originality. It's only the latest in a long line of companies that undermine touted advantages of their products with poorly advertised restrictions, qualifications, limits or caveats, usually listed in the least obvious places and in the smallest of typefaces. It happens so often that it's acquired a term of art: "mouse print," and a Web site of the same name that collects examples of this kind of fine-print trickery.
It happens so often that, sometimes, you may have to set aside a company's effrontery and evaluate these gotchas on their own merits: Do they make a product a bad deal or not?
I've found that this isn't always the case. For example, I've decided that -- at least for my own use -- I don't care if I can't replace the battery on my MP3 player or cell phone, because I don't ever keep either kind of gadget long enough for its batteries to wear out. (My phone's battery can, in fact, easily be replaced, but I've only ever removed it when I've needed to reboot the phone.)
But maybe I'm being too accepting here. Let's talk about this: Would you set aside a company's sneaky presentation of a product's limits if the item in question still provides a fair value, or does that represent an unforgivable character flaw?
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