Reading online reviews is a great way – most of the time – to help with the decision-making process when purchasing a product or service.
Some merchants, however, really take it personally when someone posts a negative review. Some even have, buried deep within their terms of service (Who reads those??), a so-called non-disparagement agreement. What does that mean? It means that if you bad-mouth the product or service, they could sue you for breach of contract.
Even if the review in question is not false or defamatory (“The phone didn’t really live up to my expectations…”), this could still happen. The dictionary defines disparagement as “To bring discredit or reproach upon; to lower in credit or esteem.” That could be interpreted as virtually anything other than wholehearted praise!
A couple recently was dissatisfied with a pet-sitting service and aired their complaint on Yelp. The company first sent them a cease-and-desist letter, and when the couple refused to take down the review, the company sued.
This sort of suit is called a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” (SLAPP), used to stifle such complaints. This could be viewed as curtailing freedom of speech, however, some courts have ruled that if you accept the agreement (which you probably haven’t read!), you are voluntarily waiving your first amendment rights.
Yet another reason to read stuff carefully before you sign or click that “Accept” button!
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