Do the names John and Jen Palmer sound familiar? If they don’t already, you’re about to take notice. This Utah-based couple is the reason President Obama signed the Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 into law earlier this month.
The story begins in 2008. John purchased an item for his wife, Jen, from an online company called KlearGear. After the product never arrived, and after numerous failed attempts to work it out with their customer service department, the Palmer’s posted a negative review online about the company.
Fast-forward four years, and the Palmers were being harassed by KlearGear to remove the review, saying it went against the ‘non-disparagement’ clause in their terms of service. If they didn’t comply, they’d be hit with a $3,500 fine.
The couple refused, and a few months later noticed that the fine had been passed on to a collection agency, and their credit had taken a major hit. With the help of Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group, the Palmers won a default judgment in federal court and had their credit restored.
This KlearGear case attracted significant media coverage, and led to legislators around the country to take action. California led the charge by outlawing non-disparaging clauses back in 2014.
President Obama signed the Consumer Review Fairness Act into law on December 14th, and it states that a contract is void if it “prohibits or restricts an individual who is a party to such a contract from engaging in written, oral, or pictorial reviews, or other similar performance assessments of analyses of, including by electronic means, the goods, services, or conduct of a person that is also a party to the contract.”
While this law sets out to protect the consumer, other online-based companies are doing their part to ensure the brands are protected, as well. For example, online marketplace Amazon has placed a limit on the number of reviews shopper can leave on the site.
In an effort to put an end to false feedback, individuals can now only write five reviews a week for items they did not purchase on Amazon. The new rule is meant to make it very difficult for people who are trying to make money by selling fake reviews.
When it comes to fake reviews, both brands and consumers are to blame. Kellogg’s was the latest brand to be ousted for using individuals to promote their brands on social media and review sites. Referred to as the “Breakfast Council,” the group included nutritionists and other experts who received an average of $13,000 a year to “review Kellogg’s products, post favorable reviews on social media, and use ‘talking points’ provided by the company in their reviews.”
So where does this leave brands and consumers? With 84 percent of online customers trusting online reviews, it’s imperative that brands pay attention to their online reputation. It’s also crucial that reviews be verified, as they are on GarageFly.com, to ensure that the individuals leaving the review have actually received the service or product.
The new law, as well as changes made by large online companies, is just the latest in the story of online reviews. What we do know is that they are here to stay, and new regulations must be made to ensure both brands and consumers are protected and receiving accurate information.