Gagged No More-Consumer Review Fairness Act Gives Honest Consumers the Right to Complain
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We’re all familiar with the 1st Amendment and freedom of speech, but the 1st Amendment doesn’t protect all speech. For example, let’s say I bought a new pair of sneakers, but the shoes were poorly made and fell apart. To warn others from having the same bad experience, I leave a negative but factual review on the website where I purchased the sneakers. Guess what? Prior to the passing of the Consumer Review Fairness Act on December 14th, the company may have been able to pursue legal action against me for my negative review.
Say what? Yes, that’s because companies gagged consumers from sharing their bad experiences by enforcing a customer waiver or non-disparagement clause.
What is a customer waiver? Let’s call it the “fine print”, which says if you buy a product or interact with the company, you “agree” to never say anything negative about your experience, and you “agree” to be subject to penalties for doing so. Excuse me…so in other words, I buy a product, the product fails to work like it’s supposed to, but if I leave a review sharing my experience, the company can sue me.
How did this happen? With blogs and social media providing a platform for anyone and everyone to share their honest opinions with others, companies became scared of reviews impacting their businesses. Their solution: the companies would impose “customer waivers” or “non-disparagement clauses,” to prevent customers from exercising their legally protected rights to voice their honest opinions. YIKES!
The Good News-President Obama Signs Consumer Review Fairness Act
Last week, consumers won an important victory to ensure their voices are heard in the marketplace, when President Obama signed the Consumer Review Fairness Act. Consumer Reports pushed hard for this law and played a key role by using their multiple platforms to inform consumers about its importance. The Consumer Reports policy and mobilization team warned on consumerreports.org about problems with these clauses, and also wrote about the bill in the November’s issue of the magazine Better World column. For years, Consumerist, an independent news and information source that is part of Consumer Reports, has reported on the impact of these clauses have on consumers. This work was cited in testimony during Congressional hearings on the bill.
The Consumer Review Fairness Act protects the right of consumers to share honest reviews of the companies they do business with, and the products and services they purchase. It also protects the ability of organizations like Consumer Reports to publish stories directly from consumers about their experiences.
“You want the consumer voice in the marketplace to be heard,” explains George Slover, Senior Policy Counsel for our colleagues at Consumer Reports, who have supported this legislation since its earliest form. “You want, particularly in the internet age, consumers to have a vastly expanded ability to hear from each other and to make decisions in the marketplace based on the experience of others… honest reviews are a part of that.”
Thanks to the Consumer Review Fairness Act, these efforts to silence consumers are now against the law, unenforceable against consumers, and subject to action by the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general.
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