New Law Protects Online Reviewers

California says businesses can not hide clauses in online contracts negative restricting reviews of goods and services

People are sometimes fooled into signing online contracts. When you click "I Agree" with your mouse, you could be signing up for more than you bargained for -- including promising not to be critical in a review of a restaurant or hotel.

Some hotels have actually taken customers to court for writing negative reviews on popular websites like Yelp. The "non-disparagement" clause is often ignored yet still enforced because the customer clicked in agreement to an online contract they never read.

"You're agreeing to not say anything negative about a company," said California Western law processor Nancy Kim. "A lot of these clauses actually say that if you do post a negative review that you'll be subject to a fine."

But that has now changed in California. Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill protecting consumers' online reviews. The law prevents companies from including "non-disparagement" clauses into their contracts with customers.

"It infringes the ability for a consumer to express themselves online," Kim said. "So it does hinder free speech."

The law only applies to contracts for sale or lease of "consumer goods or services" and does not apply to negotiated agreements that don't involve consumer goods. It also does not allow a reviewer to tell lies about a business.

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