The US Senate Speaks Out to Protect Online Reviews

Today, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on “How Gagging Honest Reviews Harms Consumers and the Economy,” focusing on the proposed Consumer Review Freedom Act and preventing non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts.

Americans have a deep tradition of sharing opinions, whether directly through word of mouth to our friends and neighbors, in newspaper editorials, on radio and television, or — within the last decade — on the Internet. Consumer review sites like Yelp and others are at the forefront of the feedback economy that is taking root in the US and around the world.

According to a recent study, nearly 70% of consumers use online reviews before making a purchasing decision. Whether it is for a restaurant, hotel, pediatrician, coffee shop, hairdresser or dog walker, consumer review platforms empower people to make more informed choices by allowing them to tap into the experiences of their friends and neighbors.

As these platforms have grown, however, some businesses have tried to prevent people from talking about their opinions and experiences online by threatening them with lawsuits if they don’t comply with hidden, non-negotiable, non-disparagement clauses.

Thankfully, Congress is taking an important step in protecting consumers’ right to free speech with the Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015 (S. 2044). This bipartisan effort, introduced by Senators John Thune (R-SD), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), would nullify any of the non-negotiable clauses that allow businesses to slap consumers with large fines for sharing their honest feedback.

The protection of free speech, both offline and on, has always been, and should continue to be, a top priority of the government. We at Yelp applaud the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for their dedication to this issue and look forward to a long future where people can share their firsthand experiences with local businesses without facing the threat of fine or unfair retribution.