Here Are The Companies That Want To Charge You $2,500-$100,000 For Negative Reviews

from the self-inflicted-reputation-wounds-are-surprisingly-pricey dept

Geek gadget also-ran KlearGear gained internet infamy thanks to the following paragraph tucked away on its “Terms of Sale and Use” page:

In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts KlearGear.com, its reputation, products, services, management or employees.

Tacked onto this absurd redefining of “fair and honest feedback” was a $3,500 fee. This was levelled at a couple who complained about the non-delivery of products it had paid for. This went to court, and the couple was awarded over $300,000 in a default judgement when KlearGear no-showed.

For the most part, this would seem to be a cautionary tale — something other companies would take into consideration when crafting their own terms of service. But some companies are still apparently willing to dance with the Devil Streisand by including onerous fees tied to the phrase “fair and honest feedback.” Not only will the enforcement of this clause likely result in large amounts of public shaming, but in some states, this may actually be illegal.

In the interest of discouraging future KlearGears from dragging their customers’ credit ratings through the mud in response to bad reviews, we present a list of companies that still maintain similar clauses on their websites, along with dollar amounts demanded if this clause is violated.

Textbooks on Park – “legal fees and court costs”

Textbooks on Park, a Glen Ellyn, IL, strip mall resident, claims to service College of DuPage students with discounted books and, obviously, textbook rentals. In its rental agreement, it claims the following:

In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this rental contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts Textbooks On Park, Inc. its reputation, products, services, management or employees. Should you violate this clause, as determined by Textbooks On Park, Inc. in its sole discretion, you will be provided a seventy-two (72) hour opportunity to retract the content in question. If the content remains, in whole or in part, you will be billed for legal fees and court costs until such complete costs are determined in litigation. Should these charges remian unpaid for 30 calendar days from the billing date; your unpaid invoice will be forwarded to our third party collection firm and will be reported to consumer credit reporting agencies until paid.

It’s hard to see what legal fees Textbooks on Park could possibly claim, unless it was actually able to successfully pursue a libel claim — in which case, there’s no reason for any of this wording to be included. Winning a lawsuit would generally avail it of most of these costs, and uncollected damages would, of course, be referred to collection agencies, etc. The only reason this wording is here is to discourage negative reviews.

Reviews at Yelp are mixed, as are those collected by Google. There seem to be some discrepancies between its stated policies and actual behavior. There’s no indication anyone’s been sued over these reviews, but why take a chance? Textbooks on Park says “support local businesses,” but this clause says take your business elsewhere.

Vinotemp International – $2.500

This manufacturer of wine racks, cabinets, coolers and cellars doesn’t have its non-disparagement clause posted at its site. Instead, it’s hidden in the fine print of the Terms and Conditions sheet packaged with its products. Vinotemp includes a few tweaks, but otherwise the wording is nearly identical to similar offending clauses:

… acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts Seller its reputation, products, services, management or employees, unless you have:

(A) first communicated with Seller, and (B) your statement/claim has been substantiated or validated by a judgment. Should you not follow this process, Seller in its sole discretion, will provide you a seventy-two (72) hour opportunity to retract the content in question. If the content remains, in whole or in part, you will immediately be billed US $2,500, as liquidated damages, representing a fair estimation of damages, for it would be impracticable or extremely difficult to fix the actual damages…

As usual, uncollected fees will be reported to credit bureaus, etc. Vinotemp’s site links to its A+ BBB accreditation, but the company has only been a member since June of this year and has zero complaints on file. A more complete picture can be found at the BBB listing for its previous address, which has 19 complaints and no accreditation. For a longer discussion about Vinotemp’s problematic products and service, see this forum discussion at Wine Berserkers.

Final Step Marketing – $2750

This company ostensibly provides marketing services for companies, but its internet footprint doesn’t extend past self-reference. Hidden away from many exciting pages filled with buzzwords is Final Step’s claim that negative reviewers may be slapped with a bill for $2,750.

3rd Rock Adventures – $3000

Atlanta’s 3rd Rock Adventures offers guided tours of points of interest around the world. It also offers you the chance to engage in some “open and honest public feedback” for the low, low price of $3,000. The usual 72-hour removal window applies as does the reporting to credit agencies. 3rd Rock may be a perfectly fine company, but reviews are nonexistent — not even the expected glowing testimonials most companies post to their own websites.

Various companies – $3500

Here’s a fun bunch, all of which seem to have copy-pasted KlearGlear’s deplorable clause, including the $3,500 fee. All they had to do is switch out the company name.

Merthyr Motor Auctions (UK) – $3902

Actual price is £2,500.00 GBP, so your bad review damages may fluctuate with the exchange rate should you happen to reside outside of the UK. Again, the inclusion of this non-disparagement boilerplate is inexplicable considering reviews of the company are overwhelmingly positive. (Or does it mean it’s working?)

Church Freedom – $5000

This organization aims to “free” churches from the normal non-profit status and reorganize them as corporations to allow them to escape certain aspects of regulation, including taxes. In addition to hitting negative reviewers with a $5,000 fee, Church Freedom also threatens to do the same to people who file disputes/chargebacks or issue refund requests improperly.

Cronus Corporation – $5000

Not entirely sure what this company does other than generate buzzwords (“Digi-DNA® is the application suite that provides unified marketing metrics, integrated marketing services, sponsorship ROI enhancement, metadata management…”) but its web footprint is dominated by companies that spell their names differently — and those companies don’t charge customers for negative feedback.

Ink 4 Cake – $5000

Edible ink purveyor which seems to have a few issues, although mileage seems to vary from product to product. Also: $5,000 non-disparagement fees.

Token Energy (UK), Axtexs Fitness (UK) – $5463

Both companies will charge you £3,500.00 GBP for discouraging words, but Token Energy shaves 24 hours off the usual timetable for disparaging review removal (from 72 hours to 48).

Portascope.com Inc. – $6000

Niche marketer specializing in video endoscopy systems for veterinarians. Nearly doubles the established KlearGear standard with its $6,000 non-disparagement fee, but still can’t find the time to fill out the boilerplate pasted into its Privacy page.

From time to time Portascope.com Inc. may use agents or contractors who will have access to your personal information to perform services for Portascope.com Inc. (such as DATABASE MAINTENANCE, FURTHER EXAMPLES)…

Now, we arrive at our grand champion of the non-disparagement clause wars. Or would be if its site hadn’t gone offline sometime in the past couple of weeks. Fortunately there are screenshots and cached versions.

Acer Capital Recovery – $100,000

Seeing is gaping in disbelief.



The money quote:

In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this TOS prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts Acer Capital Recovery llc™, its reputation, products, services, management or employees. You hereby agree to liquidated damages of $100,000.00 USD plus costs and actual damages for violating this provision.

$100,000 minimum for negative reviews. That’s ballsy. Of course, you can write any amount you want into your non-disparagement clause as long as you a) never enforce it and b) don’t seem to exist outside of a (now dead) website.

Below are the offices of this collection company.



Seems legit.

The simple fact is these clauses don’t work. If someone decides to enforce them, they’re going to have a hard time collecting on them, especially once they get taken to court for enforcing clauses bordering on illegality. If the review is truly libelous, the court system is on their side and damages will be awarded, so attempting to price this out in advance is nothing more than a really lousy intimidation tactic.

If the company is horrible enough, word will spread even with the policy in place. And if a company with a terrible reputation attempts to shut up its critics with sky-high fees, the Streisand Effect takes over, putting them in an even deeper hole, as negative reviews pour in from internet denizens.

The best defense against these clauses is a good offense: public shaming. Perhaps a little advance adverse notoriety will result in the yanking of these clauses, and those formerly deploying these will actually learn to engage in open and honest feedback using the original definitions of those words.

Filed Under: ,
Companies: 3rd rock adventures, acer capital recovery, axtexs fitness, church freedom, cronus corporation, eyeglass lens direct, fight dentist, final step marketing, for rent no credit check, ink 4 cake, kleargear, merthyr motor auctions, new wave energy, portascop

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Comments on “Here Are The Companies That Want To Charge You $2,500-$100,000 For Negative Reviews”

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50 Comments
Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

in my area, we have comcast & att. apparently, att is the better of the 2 evils since they aren’t blocking roku boxes from accessing hbo.

however – public shaming is doing nothing to introduce a real competitor, or to make these bullies better.

need more options. maybe we can lobby the gov’t to have them help The People?

Anonymoussays:

Lesson 1: Don't post who you are on the internet

It’s still baffling to me why anyone would give their true identity on the internet for anything.

Company has something like this? OK, post under a pseudo-name and go through a free proxy if you’re feeling extra cautious that day, and crap like this can’t be enforced.

ltlw0lfsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Lesson 1: Don't post who you are on the internet

And use a proxy when posting so they can’t get anything useful if they find a judge who actually believes that IP addresses can identify a single person.

Hopefully a proxy that doesn’t keep records…which is hard to find today. Otherwise the judge just asks the proxy for your information and you’re toast (though, I suspect that if you find a competent lawyer, and push the issue, the law will eventually side with you that this is an unconstitutional abuse of the 1st amendment.)

I’d rather companies go back to the old “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” model. If you don’t like my opinion of your service, disown me as a consumer (I most likely already have disowned you anyway, but at least you’ll feel good about it.) Playing these legal games with people’s lives and financial well-being is only going to backfire in the long run, and in some cases, the short run.

Colinsays:

In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this rental contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts Textbooks On Park, Inc.

“In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, only post good things about us or be penalized.”

I…what…I can’t…

Fuck you guys.

Poor services = poor reviews

So is it safe to assume that these companies provide poor services and they know it, so they think the only way to stop people from talking about the poor service is to threaten them?

And how many people will read those terms and be scared by the legalese? I’m guessing a lot of people, since:
1) It’s “in print” so it must be true.
2) A company wouldn’t put something like that on their site if if it wasn’t true and they weren’t willing to do it.

Here’s a free tip to the companies: if you provided good services at a fair price, you wouldn’t get reviews that were so bad that you had to sue people. Unless of course, your business is actually suing people, then proceed.

ltlw0lfsays:

Re: Re: Poor services = poor reviews

So is it safe to assume that these companies provide poor services and they know it

In this case…you are probably right. However, I have a friend who runs a restaurant, and he has gotten angry at people posting reviews before (not enough to do something this stupid though.) I’ve seen some of the reviews, and they are really, really bad. One person wrote a ton of bad stuff about their experience, but never said anything good. I’d personally read something like that as sour grapes…the person was upset, their day wasn’t going too well, they woke up on the wrong side of the bed, etc.. If nothing is going right for them, they aren’t going to see anything good about anything.

Sour grapes is one thing, but reviewing a restaurant you’ve never been to (mistakenly,) or trolling, I’ve seen those to. He has a ton of great reviews, but 54 reviews so bad Yelp has pulled them. I laughed at a few of them because the person complained about something the restaurant has never served, or about service the restaurant (which is a “fast food” restaurant) has never provided (“the waiter was snobby and difficult to work with.”)

But there were also a lot of good reviews that gave low/lower points on yelp because of valid criticisms, and even stuff I’ve seen going into his restaurant. I’ve had mixed up orders, and stuff missing from my meal…but he didn’t seem too upset by those reviews either since he knew they were stuff he had to fix.

Here’s a free tip to the companies: if you provided good services at a fair price, you wouldn’t get reviews that were so bad that you had to sue people.

And another couple: You are going to get bad reviews; don’t take them personally unless there is something you can do to fix the problem they are criticizing you about. People are more likely to complain than praise, and you just can’t please some people. Also realize that bad reviews help consumers too…if you have a spotless record in reviews, we are going to think something is a little fishy. Having a 99.5% positive rating is more valuable than a 100%. And whatever you do, don’t be a dick.

John Fendersonsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Poor services = poor reviews

“I have a friend who runs a restaurant, and he has gotten angry at people posting reviews before”

I completely understand getting angry over these things. But the way to vent that anger is with friends & family, not stupid contractual terms. I personally see the presence of these types of terms as a huge red flag that the company has a history of pissing off its customers.

“if you have a spotless record in reviews, we are going to think something is a little fishy.”

More than a little (even a 99.5% favorable ranking is highly suspicious.) If all I see are great reviews, I simply assume that the whole thing is fixed and the impression I get is roughly the same as if there was a bunch of bad reviews.

ltlw0lfsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Poor services = poor reviews

I personally see the presence of these types of terms as a huge red flag that the company has a history of pissing off its customers.

I do too, and would avoid these companies like the plague once I was aware of this, but I can understand what would bring someone to this level of dickishness.

He did say that he wished that Yelp would review the reviewers and not just allow anyone to post anything…to which I explained that this already exists, but it is a little more reactive than proactive.

I could see that someone, who doesn’t even have a history of pissing off customers, could react in this way. Sheer ignorance and cutting their own throat, but like I said, he wasn’t upset about the reviews that were negative about stuff he could fix.

Anonymoussays:

UVA

Add the University of Virginia to the list.

http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/small/using/use_of_materials_policy.html

“Any use of Special Collections images or materials is subject to the user or recipient?s agreement to indemnify and hold harmless the University of Virginia, its officers, employees and agents from and against all suits, claims, actions and expenses. By your use of these materials, you agree to these responsibilities, including the noted legal protections of the University of Virginia.”

How does this work?

What if the user is not the original recipient of the copy?
How would they know about the indemnification duty?

If 10 people receive a copy, and one User offends someone, how will UVA know which recipient to go after?

What if the recipient of the copy or user is a minor?

How is the recipient supposed to control third-party use?
— The recipient owns the copy and can sell it on eBay.

So if a researcher receives a copy of a document, and sells it to a newspaper, and the newspaper publishes it, who has a duty to finance a lawsuit if someone has been offended, the researcher or the newspaper?

What if UVA is negligent, does a user have to pay for UVA’s negligence, for not notifying the recipient, of a donor agreement, for example?

Since UVA is a public agency, what is the legal authority for collecting the name of people who ask for copies of something, and retaining their names after they have left the building or website — what is the legal justification for collecting and disseminating that person’s identity, under Virginia’s Collection and Dissemination of personal information Law?

KRAsays:

Love the list!

Public shaming might not change the minds of the jackasses who come up with these ridiculous threats, but it might make a different company reconsider doing the same thing.

And I agree with previous posters about anonymity–maybe use a proxy and a fake name and access the proxy from a place with free wifi, so if the proxy’s ordered to give the originating IP the jackass gets a McDonalds or a Starbucks or something. Don’t give enough detail to identify your particular experience. Trust me–you don’t want to deal with one of these litigious loons

Nom du Claviersays:

Re: Re: Re: Vinotemp

Quite…

If you bought the product from someone else (like Home Depot), it seems to me that those T&C aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. You don’t have a contract with the manufacturer simply because they included a slip of paper.

Or are we to assume that HD made you sign that paper before being allowed to buy the product. In which case, good luck, I’ll go shop somewhere else.

How would you enforce a contract without binding someone, or even if you did, when it’s clearly unconscionable?

Just like obligatory health care insurance policy coverage, developing a family lawyer upon retainer will likely turn out to be obligatory for those People in the USA, except you intend to manage the particular penalties. Some sort of constitutional conference will be extended over credited. Awaken The united states, the afternoon on the The almighty comet as being a burglar from the night time, and so you shouldn’t shed in the event the time period comes.

Froksays:

free up church bindings

“”free” churches from the normal non-profit status and reorganize them as corporations to allow them to escape certain aspects of regulation”

Churches are not bound to silence in the face of legislative injusice

“He who votes for Bob commits a grave sin”

“The green team promotes evil”

No such sermon along these lines ‘endangers’ their respective non-profit status. Fire legal counsel. Repeat.

Negative review of the century

In the interests of people not getting ripped off by overly litigious manufacturers and merchants, I recommend that nobody in the world do any business whatsoever with the following companies: KlearGear; Textbooks on Park; Vinotemp International; Final Step Marketing; 3rd Rock Adventures; New Wave Energy; Eyeglass Lens Direct; For Rent No Credit Check (not in UK; despite claims on website); Single Gourmet of South Florida; Sensational Connections; Fight Dentist; Merthyr Motor Auctions; Church Freedom; Cronus Corporation; Ink 4 Cake; Token Energy (UK); Axtexs Fitness (UK); Portascope.com Inc; and Acer Capital Recovery. This is due to the fact that if you review the products of these companies and they don’t like what you have to say, it can cost you over $163,115 unless you have the time and energy to prove in court that the non-disparagement clauses in the above named companies’ contracts are void ab initio.
Hey, companies! Don’t like negative reviews? Tough titty doo dah! Trololololol!

ThankYouTechDirtsays:

New Wave Strikes Language...Please Update

Update 11:40 a.m. 12/22: New Wave Energy tells RetailEnergyX that it struck the non-disparagement language from its paper contracts some time ago, and was unaware that the language was still included in its online terms of service.

Upon learning of the language remaining online via our story, New Wave Energy has immediately removed the non-disparagement language from its online contracts and terms of service.
– See more at: http://www.retailenergyx.com/sy.cfm/1030/ESCO-Included-in-TechDirt-s-Hall-of-Shame-for-Non-Disparagement-Clauses-3-500-Penalty-#sthash.cBl6N9SW.dpuf

h826123says:

Re: Re: Vinotemp

Except that they DID, as clearly shown via documentation here. It was removed ONLY after California passed a law, since Vinotemp is a California-based company, making such clauses illegal. Hardly a mitzvah on the part of Vinotemp; the law forced their hand. Plus, according to that linked thread, they’re still suing customers for undelivered products as of today.

trollificussays:

I know this is an old thread, but the “Vinotemp Saga” in the linked thread is fascinating, in a can’t-look-away car crash kind of way. (http://www.wineberserkers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=29900)

It ended THIS YEAR (disputed purchase was in 2010), but the noble protagonist, who was put through insane duress by the company, FINALLY won a court case…and by “won”, I mean “got a settlement done before trial”, which involved an NDA apparently. Public record though, shows “Dismissal via settlement with prejudice”. Basically, a pre-trial “You have failed to intimidate or financially crush the defendant, and you are clearly in the wrong. Do the fucking math.” message. But it took the poor woman YEARS and hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of effort, in addition to legal fees (which, I suspect, she DID recover).

So if your corporate opponent, even though clearly in the wrong by any common sense moral reckoning, goes after you, you CAN win…but you have to not give up, no matter what.

Abbysays:

US finalising federal contract ban for companies that use Huawei

The Trump administration plans to finalize regulations this week that will prevent the US government from buying goods or services from any company that uses products from five Chinese companies, including Huawei, Hikvision and Dahua, a US official said.

https://newschant.com/technology/us-finalising-federal-contract-ban-for-companies-that-use-huawei-others/

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