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Consumers Union hails new law to protect consumers’ right to post online reviews of products, services

Consumer Review Fairness Act is “an important victory for consumers,” will outlaw non-disparagement clauses used to penalize customers for negative reviews

Thursday, December 15, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C – Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports, today hailed the signing of a new law to protect the rights of consumers to express their open and honest opinions about the products and services they buy.

President Obama signed the bipartisan law – known as the Consumer Review Fairness Act — which outlaws so-called “non-disparagement clauses” or “gag clauses” that some companies slip into the fine print of their contracts.  Some companies have used these clauses to bully, intimidate, fine, or sue customers who posted negative reviews.

George Slover, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said, “This is an important victory for consumers.  This new law helps protect the fundamental right of consumers to make their voices heard in the marketplace and hold businesses accountable for the products and services they sell. Businesses should not be able to manipulate consumer feedback so that only glowing reviews see the light of day. If a business can’t or won’t deliver, it should have to answer in the marketplace. The way to make sure that can happen is for consumers to be able to share their experiences in honest reviews. The Internet can be a powerful tool for consumers to educate each other, and this bill will help make sure the internet can live up to that promise.”

For years, Consumers Union has pressed members of Congress to approve this legislation.  The organization pushed to advance the bill at every stage through the House and Senate, helping generate bipartisan support for the bill.

These “non-disparagement” clauses typically say that a consumer “agrees” to not say anything negative about their experience with the company, and “agrees” to penalties for doing so, or “agrees” to give the business copyright control over whether a review can be published.  A couple in Utah was hit with a $3,500 penalty for posting a negative online review, and when they refused to pay, the company reported them to the credit bureaus, damaging their credit rating.  A Texas couple was sued for a negative review by a company seeking up to a million dollars.

Under the Consumer Review Fairness Act, these efforts to silence the consumer voice are against the law, unenforceable against consumers, and subject to action by the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general.