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3 On Your Side: Trouble With Online Reviews

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jim-donovan-web Jim Donovan
Jim Donovan is a 13-time Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter w...
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By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Do you rely on reviews when you’re picking a product, doctor, or other service provider?

Well you may not be getting the full picture.  As 3 On Your Side consumer reporter Jim Donovan finds, some companies are now including clauses in their contracts that will limit your ability to give them an online review.

Karina is almost ready for her wedding day.  Her dress is ready, the invites are out but she ended up canceling her photographer.

“I just kind of was uncomfortable with their lack of responses and their kind of run around,” said Karina.

She wanted to warn other brides so she posted an online review.

Soon after, she got an email from the photographer saying, “we kindly ask that you remove your posting,” noting she could face “legal action” for “breach of contract.”

Karina says she didn’t realize her agreement said, “neither party will disparage the other”.

“I was livid. I was so upset that A) I couldn’t review a vendor  B) that you would email me, almost threateningly.  So I felt, like I think I felt bullied.”

Anja Winikka of TheKnot.com, says these non-review clauses are popping up in contracts for all sorts of wedding vendors, limiting what couples can say.

“Prohibiting them from giving them a review that’s less than a five star review,” said Winikka.

These clauses can be hard to spot.  Experts say look for words like “confidentiality”, “non-review”.  And that’s not all.

“If you see “non-disparagement” in your contract that’s a cause for alarm,” said Winikka.

Attorney Noah Davis says he’s alarmed these clauses are used by others too. Contractors, plumbers and dentists.  Even some online merchants are putting them in their terms and conditions.

“I really am floored by the prospect that this is happening,” said Davis.

Experts say don’t sign a contract unless you understand everything in it.

If you spot a non-disparagement clause ask the business why it’s there and see if they’ll remove it.

“Don’t sign those agreements if they don’t allow you to take those clauses out of the contract,” said Davis.

Karina took down her review to avoid legal headaches, but worries other brides won’t get the full picture when trying to decide who to hire.

“It’s a huge game changer if you really can’t speak freely about your experiences with some of these businesses,” said Karina.

Experts at The Knot also say you should be cautious when reading glowing online reviews or those that are a bit over the top, that could be a red flag.  Look for balanced reviews and take note of how a company responds to any negative complaints.

 

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