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Congrats America, you can now safely slag off who you like online

Let a thousand bad reviews bloom on the web

The US Congress has handed over the Consumer Review Freedom Act, which stops businesses from gagging online reviews of their products or services, to President Obama for his signature.

With the growth of online review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, some businesses have started to require customers to sign contracts that ban them from posting negative reviews. Alternatively people have been sued for very large sums after expressing their displeasure online.

In light of these practices, California passed a law to give free speech protection to such reviews. Now Congress has followed through in an impressive display of bipartisanship – something it couldn't manage for some other pressing business.

"Reviews on where to shop, eat, or stay on websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor help consumers make informed choices about where to spend their money," said Internet Subcommittee Ranking Member Brian Schatz (D-HI).

"Every consumer has the right to share their honest experiences and opinions of any business without the fear of legal retaliation, and the passage of our bill brings us one step closer to protecting that right."

The news is good for both consumers and businesses. Those writing reviews need not hold back (and I've written more than a few salty ones myself), but businesses could also see a benefit. When these kinds of gagging orders have become public in the past, hordes of keyboard warriors have nuked the businesses' ratings to zero.

"Just as word of mouth is used by family and friends to share experiences with particular brands or businesses, online reviews have significant benefits to consumers in their purchasing decisions," said Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS).

"I'm pleased this legislation will now be sent to the president's desk. It will help make certain consumers in Kansas and across the country are able to make their voices heard without fear of lawsuits or financial repercussions for honest feedback."

The Senate passed its version of the legislation last year, and the House of Representatives managed to get it through in September. The necessary tweaking to get the final legislation enacted has now been completed and the bill has been sent to the White House. ®

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