Consumers now have the ability to publish their reviews and criticisms of business in widely viewed forums such as social media. Sometimes, this criticism is fair. Other times, it’s unfair. In some cases, it is so unfair that businesses may even consider taking action to remove it.
Before engaging in business litigation against an unfair review, however, business should understand the Consumer Review Fairness Act.
Congress passed this law after receiving reports that businesses tried to prevent people from giving candid reviews about products or services they purchased. Some companies also placed provisions in contracts, including online terms and conditions, which allowed them to sue or punish consumers who posted negative reviews.
The CRFA is a federal law that protects customers from sharing their truthful opinions on a business’s products, services or conduct in social media or any other forum. This law protects online reviews, social media posts, uploaded photographs, videos, and other consumer assessments. The CFRA also covers consumer evaluations of a business’s customer service.
Companies may not include standardized terms in agreements that threaten or penalize customers for posting honest reviews. Employment contracts and agreements with independent contractors are excluded, however.
What is allowed
The CFRA permits a business to prohibit or remove reviews that contain the following:
- Confidential or private information such as a person’s financial or medical information, an individual’s personnel file, or a company’s trade secrets.
- Libelous, harassing, abusive, obscene, or sexually explicit content or reviews containing inappropriate statements on race, gender, ethnicity, or other intrinsic characteristics.
- Content unrelated to the business’s products or services.
- Clearly false or misleading contents.
The Federal Trade Commission and state Attorneys’ Generals enforce CFRA. A violation of the CFRA is treated like violations of FTC rules defining unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Financial penalties and a federal court order may be imposed upon violators.
To comply with the CRFA, businesses should review their online terms and conditions and other form contracts. They need to remove provisions restricting consumers from sharing honest reviews or penalizing customers who post these reviews. Terms claiming copyright protection over reviews must be removed even if a business does not intend to enforce them.