Category Archives: On-Line Reviews: Now Protected by Law

Importance of on-line reviews is now recognized by federal law.

On-Line Reviews: Now Protected by Law. Are You Stuck?

Reviews Matter

On-Line Reviews have become more and more important.  Today, surfing review sites for good reviews, and then going directly to the Web site for a product or service that has good reviews, is growing in popularity.

Google now displays some reviews in the basic information it provides with search results about a company.  For example, here’s the result of a Google search on Comsource Management, a local (Maryland) condominium management company.  Just below the photos is a report that the company has 35 Google reviews, with an average of 1.1 out of five stars!  Then a little lower are actual reviews from several review sites.  This can be the first introduction that a potential customer has to a company.

comsource-google-search

It’s understood that angry customers, who have a grievance, are more likely to make an unfavorable review than happy customers, who simply got what they expected.  So what can a business do about it?

Businesses Respond–with Non-Disclosure Agreements

Some businesses have responded by including non-disclosure agreements in the terms of service on their Web sites or in their purchase contracts.  Then they’ve forced customers who write critical reviews to remove them, or have even sued for damages:

  • A pet sitter in Texas sued a customer for up to $1 million in damages over an unfavorable Yelp review.  The short version of the story is that the pet sitter sued the customer for violating the terms of a non-disparagement clause in their contract.  A judge dismissed the suit because it was intended to silence the defendant, and violated the Texas Citizens Participation Act.  The pet sitter wound up potentially liable for attorneys’ fees and, of course, subject to negative publicity.
  • The Windermere Cay apartments near Orlando, Florida included a “Social Media Addendum” in its lease.  This document prohibits negative reviews on social media, and if it is breached, provides for a $10,000 fine!  Following some publicity, the apartment’s Yelp listing overflowed with reviews, many of them negative reviews from people who didn’t live there, so weren’t covered by the policy.
  • Tesla includes a nondisclosure agreement in its purchase contract.  Recently the company ran afoul of he National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over concerns that the agreement might prevent owners from reporting safety problems.  NHTSA is now seeking information from owners about possible suspension problems, and Tesla has modified the terms of its agreement.  The problem started when an owner reported suspension problems and the company agreed to cover some repair costs if the owner signed an agreement to not discuss the issue publicly.

These methods never worked well, but today they don’t work at all because a new law prevents businesses from preventing customers from writing unfavorable reviews.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016

In December the President this into law.  The law makes a provision of a contract void if it prohibits a party to a contract in engaging in written, oral or pictorial reviews or other performance assessments a goods and services provided by another party to the contract.  The law prohibits the offering of a contract with such a restrictive provision.

If the review is not accurate, the laws of libel still apply; but with this law, if a reviewer is telling the truth, there’s now little that a business can do to force the removal of a negative review or to collect damages.

What Can You Do?

First, pay attention to your reviews.  It’s a good idea to reply to all of them that appear to be at all reasonable–the reply shows to everyone who reads the review that you care what your customers think of you.  Visit the popular review sites often and read your reviews.

Don’t panic if you get one or two unfavorable reviews in the midst of a lot of good reviews.  People who read reviews know that you can’t please everybody, and there will always be someone who’s not satisfied.  If you have an overall score of 4.5 out of five stars, a few negative reviews will just make the whole collection more credible.

Be careful about asking for reviews–the review sites don’t like this because they think it skews the results in a favorable direction.  Yelp in particular can put a very ugly warning to readers about what you’re doing if they decide that you are asking for reviews.

If you’d like to manage your reviews without having to search review sites again and again, you can use a review management service to let you be comfortable that your reviews are helping your business, without spending a lot of time doing it.  I recommend Dave’s Certified Reviews for just that purpose, since it’s my service.

The Bottom Line

Pay attention to your reviews by replying to each one and fixing the problems with unfavorable reviews.  If you want to take care of your reviews with almost none of your time, then look into Dave’s Certified Reviews.

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