Consumer Freedom

You're Now Free to Yelp About How Terrible Everything Is in California


"I am posting to express my deep disappointment in the exceptionally poor quality of this season's Shamrock Shakes."
The Simpsons

So, not every law California passes is utterly horrifying nanny state nonsense or of secret benefit to either crony capitalist or union interests. Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into a law a rule that prevents businesses from trying to force consumers into contracts where they waive (usually unknowingly) their right to publicly criticize said business.

The origins of the law come from a couple of outrage stories that briefly captured the nation's attention. In one, a Utah couple was targeted by a business named KlearGear after they ordered items from them online that never arrived. The couple posted a negative review online. KlearGear then threatened them with a $3,500 "fine" for violating a sales contract that prohibited customers from "taking action that negatively impacts," even though the couple never actually got anything from them. The company put a $3,500 complaint against the couple through a collections agency, and they took a credit rating hit.

In the second case, a Florida vacation rental company threatened $10,000 fines for online reviews with "unreasonable negative sentiment." CNN covered both tales in a story here. The rental company changed its policy but told CNN they had implemented it in order to protect themselves from people who may try to extort money out of them by threatening bad online reviews.

The new law prohibits businesses in California from attempting to institute such fines and fines them back if they try it. So Californians are free to give their local McDonald's just three stars because the drive-thru cashier forgot to give them ketchup packets. (Seriously, why are people doing online reviews of fast food restaurants?) Of course, the law doesn't prevent the more common terrible business responses to bad criticism, which is to threaten people with defamation or libel suits or to abuse the trademark and copyright sections of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to force Internet service providers or web hosts to delete mean things said about them.

(Hat tip to Kevin Sablan)