Online reviews are often the beginning and end for any number of outings. Your glowing review of the Vietnamese place downtown may just be what helps attract another customer in search of some must-have pho. Of course, what any company fears is the opposite impact that would result from a bad review. Some companies have found a sneaky way to mitigate that risk—contractual clauses, buried deep within terms of service or similar non-negotiable forms, designed specifically to keep you from writing bad reviews.
Fortunately, steps are being taken in Congress to protect consumers from such clauses. Senator John Thune, who chairs the Senate’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Sens. Brian Schatz and Jerry Moran recently introduced the bipartisan Consumer Review Freedom Act, S. 2044. The proposed bill would nullify any clause restricting a customer from posting a negative review or fining the customer for such action. It also prohibits clauses which transfer intellectual property rights over reviews from customers to the business. But of course, some reviews are actually false or disparaging, so the bill smartly ensures that these terms do not prevent businesses from pursuing legitimate defamation cases.
This strong language is welcome. The onus is now on businesses to comply from the outset, rather than on users to interpret sometimes lengthy terms of service. Similar legislation, H.R. 2110, was earlier introduced in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, which is a hopeful signal that this bill can succeed.