New Consumer Review Protection Law
Consumer reviews have been made famous in the expanding digital marketplace. Once confined to “I’d like to speak to the manager, please,” consumer reviews can now potentially dictate the continuing success of a company (or lack thereof) through popular platforms used as a resource, for better or for worse, by thousands of potential customers of any given business or industry.
These reviews take anywhere from seconds to minutes to produce, and are submitted with the push of a button. To say that not all reviews are fair would be an understatement, and some companies have fought back — sometimes by filing libel lawsuits against particularly scathing reviewers. This has led to other practices, widely decried as unfair and discriminatory.
What the New Law Says
President Obama signed the Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 into law on December 14th of this year.
Prior to the implementation of this law, multiple lawsuits had been filed by businesses against former customers who had written negative reviews, on the basis of their reviews being libelous. After certain high-profile lawsuits were found in the defendants’ favor, many companies began adding clauses to their service contracts forbidding the posting of negative reviews online — to a varying extent.
Some prohibitions were just that: flat prohibition against engaging in negative online reviews, often excused by a lack of oversight on websites such as Yelp or Amazon. Others specified reviews without content (a low rating, with no actual review being written), reviews without supporting media, or negative reviews based on matters that were not brought to the owners’ attention first. These clauses were then used as added rationale for filing suit, whether for damages or to have the offending reviews removed.
Under the Consumer Review Fairness Act, any contract which includes a clause restricting the consumer’s right to file a review, evaluation, or complaint with regard to a service or product provider is automatically void. Such contracts will not be upheld in court. Specific provision is made with regard to electronic reviews, so there is no confusion over the point. The law is purposely worded to avoid loopholes by being broadly defined, covering most conceivable situations whereby a posted review might offend.
How the Law Affects You
A business can still file a libel suit if it feels like it has been unfairly critiqued, although this strategy is rarely successful. Many businesses have adopted the strategy of responding to unfair reviews with comments of their own, presenting their side of the account, and providing evidence that not everything went the way the customer would have everybody think. Businesses like Kyäni watch their reviews and watch for negative reviews. When a business reputation is on the line, Kyäni reviews their complaints and customer reviews closely.
The law strikes down any contracts which would prevent anyone who is involved in the contract from voiding the contract if a negative evaluation is provided. Pointedly, this would work in both directions: a customer has no legal room to complain if a business were to deliver a negative evaluation of their behavior (as per a response to a review posted online), for example.