Home / Blogs

You Cannot Tell Your Customers to ‘Shut Up’ Anymore - Consumer Review Fairness Act Signed Into Law

Bad idea: Set up a business and provide poor goods or services; receive bad reviews online for your poor goods or services.

Worse idea: Instead of treating your customers’ feedback as free expert advice and listening to their suggestions on how to improve your business, sue your customers—experience the Streisand Effect—resulting in increased media coverage highlighting your lousy goods, service, and treatment of customers. Ensure that negatives reviews of your business get the widest exposure possible.

Worser Idea: Attempt to solve this problem by telling your customers to shut-up. Insert a gag-clause in your terms of service so that it is a breach of contract for your customers to provide negative reviews of your service.

Jennifer Kulas Palmer testified before Congress about her negative experience with online business KlearGear.com. According to Palmer, in 2008 her husband ordered about $20 worth of Christmas gifts from KlearGear. When it did not arrive, they attempted to reach out to the company, but to no avail. Like so many consumers who have had a bad experience, they wrote a negative online review. Three years later, Palmer heard from KlearGear, claiming that Palmer had violated their Terms of Sale and that Palmer owed KlearGear $3500. Attorneys from Public Citizen represented the Palmers and filed a successful lawsuit against KlearGear.

If there was any doubt that this type of thing is a bad idea, in this year of divided and partisan politics, Congress unanimously voted to end attempts to silence customer reviews. The Consumer Review Fairness Act was signed into law by President Obama on December 14th.

According to the new law, ‘form contracts’ (those terms of service or standard forms shoved in front of customers to sign without the ability to negotiate individual terms) are void if they prohibit customer reviews. Any such gag provisions are unlawful and are subject to enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission or the states. The Federal Trade Commission will be publishing best practices on how to comply with the Consumer Review Fairness Act.

All of this comes about in the context of the Good Samaritan provisions of the Communications Decency Act, 47 USC 230(c), which says that online services are not liable for the third party content. This means that Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon, Google, and all the other review sites can encourage people to provide reviews of goods and services—without those online services becoming liable for those reviews. 47 USC 230(c) legally set the foundation for the interactive web where many third parties contribute without the host becoming liable for every utterance.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act establishes that you cannot tell consumers to shut up—it does not, however, protect consumers from liability for what they say. Businesses can, for example, still seek redress for defamatory reviews. Consumers can review but they may still be held responsible for their words.

By Robert Cannon, Cybertelecom

Filed Under


Comment Title:

  Notify me of follow-up comments

We encourage you to post comments and engage in discussions that advance this post through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can report it using the link at the end of each comment. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of CircleID. For more information on our comment policy, see Codes of Conduct.

CircleID Newsletter The Weekly Wrap

More and more professionals are choosing to publish critical posts on CircleID from all corners of the Internet industry. If you find it hard to keep up daily, consider subscribing to our weekly digest. We will provide you a convenient summary report once a week sent directly to your inbox. It's a quick and easy read.

I make a point of reading CircleID. There is no getting around the utility of knowing what thoughtful people are thinking and saying about our industry.

Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet



Domain Names

Sponsored byVerisign

New TLDs

Sponsored byRadix


Sponsored byDNIB.com

IPv4 Markets

Sponsored byIPv4.Global

Threat Intelligence

Sponsored byWhoisXML API


Sponsored byVerisign

Brand Protection

Sponsored byCSC