On Wednesday, November 4, the Senate Commerce Committee probed so-called gag clauses, which critics say can intimidate and prevent people from writing critical online reviews of products and services.
The panel discussed legislation that would guard against online terms of service agreements that restrict customers from making critical reviews of the products or services they purchase. A proposed bill would give authority to states and the Federal Trade Commission to prevent these clauses, which companies can use to sue individuals who write negative reviews. In Chairman John Thune’s (R-S.D.) prepared remarks he said “These gag provisions are egregious from a consumer protection standpoint, but they’re also doing harm to our Internet ecosystem.”
Joining Chairman Thune in the bi-partisan hearing was Senator Clair McCaskill (D-MI). “The average person is never going to understand what is being done to them,” Sen. McCaskill said. “I think many of them would run in horror.”
Currently, California is the only state that has laws protecting reviewers and prohibiting gag-clauses. In 2003, a related case in a New York state court required Network Associates (known for McAfee AntiVirus that is now owned by Intel) to remove a terms of service clause that required consumers to obtain permission from the company before they could publish reviews about the software. The FTC already takes the position that any company that prohibits purchasers from publishing reviews about the company is a violation of consumer protection laws. So there is already momentum in support of anti-review-gag laws. Of course a Federal legislation would clarify and solidify so as to avoid any ambiguity in the law.
ReviewInc has taken the matter and wrote the following letter to the Senator Thune:
Dear Honorable Senator Thune,
We recently read into a probe you are leading into non-disparagement clauses presented to consumers from a business in which they are conducting business with.
We applaud Federal Law that protects these consumers. However, we believe there is balance required to this equation. We have research that shows that a business can be utterly destroyed with bad reviews. Now if they have consistently provided bad service, they probably deserve it, but if the review is from a disgruntled ex-employee or even a competitor working to deride your business, it would be utterly unfair to protect these inappropriate reviews from legal action. There must be balance between consumers and businesses.
So what is the best way to provide business owners protection? Remove anonymity protection laws from the review sites. This way, the business owner has a method of recourse to identify if a reviewer is a legitimate customer or if they are inappropriately hiding behind the proverbial mask of online anonymity to gain unfair advantage or cause undue harm.
We will be sharing this letter to you with all our customers and clients.
We encourage you to also write the senator and your own senators and representatives about this important issue.
ReviewInc can help businesses get more legitimate reviews everywhere and enhance their reputation. A large number of legitimate reviews can also help shield a business from personal attacks. For a no obligation consultation call ReviewInc at 877-9REVIEW or leave a note here and have an expert contact you.