Consumers shouldn’t be prohibited by companies from telling each other about the goods and services they purchased, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Monday.
On one of the biggest online shopping days of the year, Cyber Monday, Blumenthal touted legislation aimed at ending non-disparagement clauses by letting consumers post reviews.
An unknown number of companies are seeking to “censor, scrub and sanitize” any bad online reviews by consumers, Blumenthal said. And the companies are succeeding because they are suing consumers who tell each other about these goods and services.
The companies are succeeding because consumers generally don’t read the fine print and sign these non-disparagement clauses.
“These gag clauses must be stopped,” Blumenthal said.
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed the bill on Nov. 18 and Blumenthal said the full Senate could vote on it before the end of the year.
Blumenthal said consumers should have the unvarnished truth about “hotels that may be dirty” or “retailers that fail to honor their promises.”
Blumenthal said these non-disparagement clauses are actually bad for companies in the long run because it also prohibits consumers from spreading good news about the businesses to other consumers.
The Federal Trade Commission would be the lead enforcement agency under the legislation, but Blumenthal said he also carved out a role for state attorneys general to play in enforcing it.
“I insisted on that provision,” Blumenthal, a former attorney general, said.
Blumenthal said he expects action to take place soon because there also is a House version of the legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California.
Chuck Bell, of Consumer Union, which is the policy arm of Consumer Reports, said consumers typically don’t realize they’ve signed a gag clause until after the fact.
After they post a review, a consumer gets a call from a reputation management firm asking them to take down an unfavorable review and that’s the first time the consumer knows they signed a clause.
“The economy relies on the free flow of information,” Bell said. These clauses “stifle the flow information to consumers.”
Bell said companies can always contact a consumer and ask them to take down a review or they can post a rebuttal.
Blumenthal said this free flow of information is vital to the Internet and “Internet shopping, which is celebrated today, ought to enable this free flow of information.”