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Paul Zimmerman

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The Consumer Review Fairness Act: Compliance and the Quest for Transparent Customer Assessment

In the age of Yelp, Facebook Amazon and Trip Advisor, most people make purchasing, dining, travel and entertainment decisions based on reviews posted by fellow consumers. These reviews are critical for both would-be customers and businesses, and it is crucial that they honestly reflect the quality of a company’s products, services and customer service.

Unfortunately, some businesses try to prevent transparent evaluation by putting contractual provisions in place, including in online terms and conditions, which allow them to penalize consumers, including through legal recourse, for posting negative reviews. The Consumer Review Fairness Act (CFRA), however, prohibits such contractual provisions and protects the ability of consumers to share their candid opinions.

This begs the question: “what can companies do to prevent false, spiteful or obscene reviews?” The good news is that they do have available recourses. The CFRA enables businesses to lawfully remove reviews that contain confidential or private information, as well as those that are (1) libelous, harassing, abusive, obscene, vulgar, sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate with respect to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or other intrinsic characteristic; (2) unrelated to their products or services; or (3) clearly false or misleading. That being said, companies must tread lightly in terms of category number three. Even if a business disagrees with a consumer’s assessment, that does not by itself permit its removal based upon the “clearly false or misleading” standard.

The moral of the story is that businesses must be mindful of the CFRA and comply with its mandates (e.g., they need to remove any contractual provision or online terms or conditions that restrict customers from sharing their honest assessments). The failure to do so can be costly as a violation of the CRFA is treated the same as violating an FTC rule.

Unsure whether you are abiding by the requirements of the CFRA or want to properly address problematic reviews? The consumer practice attorneys at Michelman & Robinson, LLP can help.

This blog post is not offered, and should not be relied upon, as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.