In our November 2016 column, we highlighted the Consumer Review Fairness Act, then a bill in Congress that aimed at protecting consumers' voices within the marketplace. Since then, both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill came together to send the bill to President Obama, who signed it into law before he left office.
The Act puts an end to one of the more disgraceful practices we've seen in online commerce.
The lowdown: Companies that sold products and/or services were trying to stop consumers from posting negative online reviews about what they'd bought by burying "gag orders" or "non-disparagement clauses" deep within the fine print of their purchase contracts or terms of service. Those clauses said that all consumers who bought the product or service "agreed" never to say anything negative about the experience and "agreed" to be subject to penalties if they did complain. And companies tried to enforce the clauses, too. A couple in Utah, for example, was hit with a $3,500 penalty for posting a negative review. When they refused to pay, the debt was reported to the credit bureaus. And consumers in Texas were sued for a bad review of a pet-sitting service, which asked for a million dollars in damages.