Sites that post consumer-generated reviews have proven to be some of the most successful on the internet. Yelp, Angie’s List and Trip Advisor have the power to help businesses build new clientele or send it into a death spiral.
It’s not surprising that some businesses have added language in their service contracts that prohibit customers from posting negative feedback about them, also known as non-disparagement clauses. As odd and as antithetical to free speech that these clauses seem, companies have tried to enforce them,
KlearGear, an online retailer that caters to cubicle workers, demanded a $3,500 fee for a review a couple left of RipoffReports.com. When the couple refused to pay, the company reported it as a ding on their credit. When the case went to court, the judge threw out KlearGear’s claims.
Congress is now looking into ensure that consumers can share their experiences without fear of retaliation. The Consumer Freedom Act, sponsored by California Representatives Darrell Issa (Republican) and Eric Swallwell (Democrat) addresses those non-disparagement clauses.
“Some organizations have sought to stifle customers’ abilities to express their opinions online by threatening punitive action if a customer leaves a negative review. The mere threat of monetary penalties or fines for writing honest reviews would chill the free exchange of opinions we expect to find on the Internet,” Issa stated.
“This is commonsense legislation to ensure the rights of consumers are protected and to penalize businesses attempting to silence fair criticism,” Swallwell also wrote.