Gagged by the Fine Print: Protecting Consumer Rights to Share Reviews Online

Date: Friday, January 15, 12:00 pm
Location: Rayburn House Office Building Room 2226
Follow: @NetCaucusAC | #ConsumerSpeech

Online review sites have enabled millions of consumers to share feedback about products and businesses — even the federal government has begun to encourage the public to review its services as a way to improve performance. But some businesses are less open to customer feedback. By including gag clauses in contracts and user agreements, these businesses try to prevent customers from leaving critical reviews of products and services, and threaten these reviewers with fines of hundreds or thousands of dollars if the comments are not removed. Some businesses maintain that negative reviews are detrimental and that anti-disparagement clauses are necessary to protect themselves from false or malicious reviews. Intellectual property and defamation laws have also been conscripted in the attempt to muzzle negative opinions.

Often hidden in the fine print of contracts, these clauses have already been struck down in courts a number of times — but sometimes, they aren’t struck down right away. In the majority of cases, customers are intimidated, cases go unheard and legitimate criticism by consumers is silenced. What is the right way to protect both consumers and businesses from bad-faith contracts and reviews? What other consumer protection issues must be dealt with to ensure a robust economy in the internet age?


  • Eric Goldman, Director, High Tech Law Institute, Santa Clara University School of Law (Bio)
  • Brad Young, Senior Counsel, TripAdvisor
  • Carl Settlemyer, Senior Attorney, Federal Trade Commission Division of Advertising Practices
  • George Slover, Senior Policy Counsel, Consumers Union (Bio)
  • Miranda Bogen, Fellow, Internet Law & Policy Foundry (moderator) (Bio)

This widely attended educational briefing is hosted by the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee (ICAC), part of a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Congressional staff and members of the press welcome. The ICAC is a private sector organization comprised of public interest groups, trade associations, non-profits, and corporations. The ICAC takes no positions on legislation or regulation. Rather, it’s a neutral platform where thought leaders debate important technology issues that shape legislative and administration policy in an open forum. We vigilantly adhere to our mission to curate balanced and dynamic debates among Internet stakeholders. Our volunteer board members ensure that we dutifully execute that mission. More information on the ICAC is available at