Federal Law Banning Honest Review “Gag Clauses” Gets Senate Commerce Committee Hearing

Business / Reviews
Image courtesy Jennifer Moo (CC BY-ND 2.0)

We love reviewing products here at Techaeris for you, our readers. And it’s fun to get to play with some of the latest tech as well. One of the things we pride ourselves on is providing you with an honest review of whatever product or app we’re reviewing. You’d think being allowed to provide an honest review is a no brainer, unfortunately that’s not always the case as some companies have been implementing gag clauses in their consumer contracts.

Consumerist, a website geared towards consumer news and information, has reported on a number of companies that use a gag clause that threatens legal action or financial penalties if a customer posts a negative review about a particular product. Everything from “cheapo cellphone accessories, to wedding contractors, to hotels, to dentists, to weight-loss products, to apartment complexes” have attempted to add this clause to their consumer agreements, which no one really reads anyways.

While California has recently passed a law banning this practice, there is no national consensus on the legality of these gag clauses. Last week, the US Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the Consumer Review Freedom Act which, in part, wants to make it against the law to include such a clause in consumer contracts.

“These gag provisions are egregious from a consumer protection standpoint, but they’re also doing harm to our Internet ecosystem,” said [Senator John] Thune [of South Dakota, sponsor of the legislation,] in his opening remarks. “A core tenet of the Internet is the ability to freely share information with whomever you like. What good is information if it’s been sanitized to remove truthful criticism?”

According to Consumerist, everyone who spoke on the panel was unable to find a good reason for these gag clauses. Speakers ranged from businesses like TripAdvisor, to consumers like Jennifer Palmer who was hit with a $3500 penalty by KlearGear after posting a negative review online.

“When a business includes a gag order… everyone is harmed,” explained TripAdvisor’s Adam Medros. “The consumer is improperly censored. The consuming public at-large is less informed than it otherwise would be about the quality of service – or lack thereof – at a given business. Even the business doing the silencing is harmed, as it loses the opportunity to learn from the experiences of its customers.”

Business owners should realize by now that honest negative feedback is not only a cost of doing business, but a way for them to learn and interact with their customers to improve their products or services.

What do you think about gag clauses in consumer contracts that prevent customers from writing negative honest reviews? Let us know in the comments below, or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

  Source: Consumerist  Source: Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015

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