PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Yelp is one of several online services where consumers may post comments, good and bad, about all kinds of products and establishments.
“I was just online today critiquing Zulily, which is an online sales of all kinds of fashion jewelry,” said Kate Fagan of Upper St. Clair.
Even if you don’t post your own comments, consumers like to read others.
“I think they’re pretty helpful — get opinions before you spend your money,” noted Dean Beisner of Beechview.
But in what consumer advocates call a “gag clause,” some vendors are putting small print in sales agreements to prohibit consumers from posting negative reviews.
“If it’s online it’s buried in one of those click forms,” consumer rights attorney Clay Morrow told money editor Jon Delano. “If it’s in a written agreement, it’s in a multi-page hidden in there.”
Morrow says these non-disparagement clauses get consumers to sign away their free speech rights to criticize.
Yelp policy director Laurent Crenshaw recalls a recent Texas case where a couple posted a negative review and, he says, “The company said they had a gag clause in the contract that said they could fine the couple $6,500 for the negative Yelp review.”
The court threw out the gag and the fine, but consumers are not happy.
“As a consumer, I feel I have the right to voice my opinion, positive or negative,” says Laurie Simon of Rochester MN.
“Fundamentally wrong, shouldn’t happen because otherwise how would we find out whether something is good or bad?” asks Ross Neville of Bristol UK.
To end this heavy handed tactic against consumers by those who provide services or sell products, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation to ban these so-called non-disparagement clauses.
Both the House and Senate have passed similar bills, and Yelp is optimistic.
“We are very hopeful that we can actually get this bill out of Congress and across the President’s desk before the end of this year,” says Crenshaw.