Congress backs bill on customer rights for online review

The mobile view of the Yelp site application shown on an iPhone mobile, shows the TSA Checkpoint Terminal 1 at the Los Angeles International Terminal location in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. Frustrated travelers have already been turning to the popular site for years to vent about the long, slow-moving airport security lines, intrusive body scans and questioning of agents. The General Service Administration unveiled last week that it had reached a deal with Yelp so the public can rate federal agencies, from the Transportation Safety Administration to national parks. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress on Monday cleared legislation to ensure that customers who want to post negative reviews on websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor can do so without legal repercussions.

The Senate passed the measure by voice vote Monday night. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama.

Supporters of the bipartisan bill say it is needed to ensure freedom of speech in a growing online economy. It was written in response to businesses that have made customers sign non-disparagement clauses and then sued if a bad review showed up.

“The internet is supposed to be an open forum for the free exchange of ideas of all kind,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. “But how free is that exchange, really, if it’s been cherry-picked and censored to weed out things some people find unfavorable? The bill we’ve now sent to the president’s desk will ensure that the internet remains a place where the freedom of speech can thrive and protect honest consumers from retaliatory litigation.”

In one case, a Dallas couple was sued by a pet-sitting company for up to $1 million after giving the company a one-star review on Yelp and complaining that their fish had been overfed. The case was dismissed this past summer.

The House passed the bill, backed by Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., and Republican Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey, in September. Kennedy, who represents Needham, Mass.-based TripAdvisor, had said fair reviews are important to strengthen the so-called “sharing economy,” which allows consumers to exchange products, services and ideas.

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