Congressional hearings are bad news for gag orders banning online reviews

Last week's Senate Commerce Committee hearings invited testimony on the Consumer Review Freedom Act, which would ban the increasingly widespread practice of inserting "non-disparagement" clauses in consumer contracts that are used on products and services from apartment buildings to cellphones to dental care.

This isn't the first time a bill has been introduced in DC to ban this sort of shenanigans, but this one's gone further than any of the others, thanks to its sponsor, Commerce Committee chairman Sen John Thune [R-SD]. The hearings themselves were very persuasive on the urgency of the problem, including testimony from Jennifer Palmer, who made news when she and her husband were denied a mortgage after being attacked by a ripoff outfit called Kleargear.

Interestingly, this morning’s panel didn’t feature a single person who could defend non-disparagement clauses.
There was an executive from TripAdvisor, which does not prohibit listed hotels and businesses from using these clauses but does flag them so that users are aware before they book a trip.

The travel site was thrust into the gag order spotlight in 2014 when a hotel in England charged $157 to the credit card of some unhappy guests after posting a negative review online.
“When a business includes a gag order… everyone is harmed,” explained TripAdvisor’s Adam Medros. “The consumer is improperly censored. The consuming public at-large is less informed than it otherwise would be about the quality of service – or lack thereof – at a given business. Even the business doing the silencing is harmed, as it loses the opportunity to learn from the experiences of its customers.”

Things Are Looking Up For Federal Law Banning “Gag Clauses” That Prevent Customers From Writing Honest Reviews
[Chris Morran/Consumerist]

(Thanks, Pteryxx!)