A new bill set to head to President Barack Obama’s desk would protect consumers’ rights to share comments and reviews about businesses without fear of retribution.
The Consumer Review Fairness Act, which passed through the Senate with a unanimous vote, will make it illegal for businesses to issue “non-disparagement” or “gag” clauses to limit consumers. An identical bill passed through the House of Representatives earlier this year, and will now make its way to the Oval Office.
The bill, which was sponsored in the senate by Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, achieved bipartisan support with six Democratic and two Republican cosponsors. President Obama is expected to sign the bill when it arrives at his desk.
Gag clauses have been used as threats against consumers to prevent them from sharing negative experiences about companies. There have been instances of retailers issuing fines against customers who only threaten to give a bad review, and have attempted to write into contracts prohibitive language to prevent any signees from making any negative comments.
The case at the center of the Consumer Review Fairness Act was the 2013 lawsuit Palmer vs. KlearGear, in which online retailer KlearGear demanded a customer remove a negative review she left online about the company or face a $3,500 fine. The customer refused, and KlearGear invoked the gag clause in its Terms of Service, sending the significant fine to a collections agency and damaging the consumer’s credit rating.
“We are thrilled to see this law passed, which will empower and protect consumer speech online, Laurent Crenshaw, Yelp's Director of Public Policy, told IBTimes.
“One of our top priorities has always been to protect the ability for internet users — everyone from Yelpers to online shoppers — to share their experiences online, whether they be positive or negative. We will continue to advocate on both state and federal levels for legislation to protect consumers.”
Thune, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, applauded the bipartisan effort to pass the bill. “By ending gag clauses, this legislation supports consumer rights and the integrity of critical feedback about products and services sold online,” he said in a statement.