What You Need to Know: Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016

  
     
December 09, 2016

BBB Consumer Review Fairness Act

    The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 was passed by Congress on Monday, November 28th and is awaiting President Obama’s signature, as of December 2nd. This is great news for the protection of consumers and their right to state informed opinions.  But before we dig into the implications behind the act, it is best to familiarize ourselves with what stirred the pot in the first place.

      We are all familiar with the dreaded Terms of Agreement page of any online registration, containing pages upon pages of jargon in small print. As we click that checkbox marked ‘agree,’ we are left to presume that those words are merely precautions. Yet, in 2013, in the case of Palmer v. Kleargear.com, an inserted clause caused doubt throughout the customer review community.

    Around Christmas time of 2008, John and Jen Palmer purchased a desk ornament and keychain from Kleargear.com, which they never received. Paypal canceled the order and Jen Palmer placed a negative review on RipoffReport.com, following her disappointment with Kleargear’s service.  “In 2012, the Palmers received a demand from KlearGear.com for $3500. According to KlearGear.com, through his wife’s post, John violated a ‘non-disparagement clause’ in the site’s Terms of Use that prohibits users from taking any action that negatively impacts KlearGear.com or its reputation, on pain of a $3500 fine.”1 This “non-disparagement clause” is set to prevent individuals from taking any action that negatively impacts the business’s reputation. In this case, Kleargear is implying the action is the review. 

      The Palmers refused to pay and were slapped with debt and reported to credit agencies. For over three years, the Palmers struggled with their newly-acquired poor credit rating. Kleargear refuses to respond. In 2014, the Palmers were awarded compensation for punitive damages, fees and expenses.

     Starting in 2014, the Consumer Review Freedom Act was initiated and as of Friday, December 2nd, according to congress.gov, was presented to President Obama for approval. The act implies that a contract will be “void if it prohibits or restricts a party from engaging in written, oral or pictorial reviews, or other similar performance assessments or analyses of, including by electronic means, the goods, services, or conduct of a person that is also a party to the contract[.]”2 This means, for in cases similar to Palmer v. Kleargear.com, any clause implying reviews are restricted will cause the contract to be void.  This, in return, will protect the consumers’ right to discuss feedback of products and services on such sites as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google and BBB Business Profiles.

"Reviews on where to shop, eat, or stay on websites [...] help consumers make informed choices about where to spend their money," said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). "Every consumer has the right to share their honest experiences and opinions of any business without the fear of legal retaliation, and the passage of our bill brings us one step closer to protecting that right."3

Your BBB understands that this is an important achievement in terms of customers’ reviews of businesses and charities. It is important to BBB that the right to freely express your opinions is protected. Express your freedom to review with BBB’s customer reviews!

 

ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2015, people turned to BBB more than 172 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 5.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for the local, independent BBBs in the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as home to its national programs on dispute resolution, advertising review, and industry self-regulation. 

1. http://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/getlinkforcase.cfm?cID=851

2. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/5111

3. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/11/congress-passes-law-protecting-right-to-post-negative-online-reviews/