If someone's looking to make money off charging others for their bad opinions, they better hustle. A policy like the Union Street Guest House's may not pass legal muster in the U.S. As reported by Alison Griswold at Slate:
If a policy like the one employed by Union Street Guest House were to wind up in court, it would most likely be struck down as illegal under a doctrine of contract law known as unconscionability. "It says if there's a surprise term in the contract that is so unfairly one-sided that one can doubt that a reasonable party would have knowingly agreed to it, that the clause cannot be enforced," Scott Michelman, an attorney with Public Citizen, says. "Nobody enters into a consumer contract expecting that they're going to be paying a fine if another consumer doesn't like the business."
And there's already a precedent for reputational-management user clauses being found laughable in a court of law: In June, a federal court fined online retailer KlearGear $306,750 in compensatory and punitive damages plus lawyers' fees, after the company cited its "disparagement clause" and attempted to charge a would-be customer $3500 for a negative review.
However, there's a difference between lawyers or tech-news junkies knowing that and consumers reeling from a $500 sucker punch knowing this. Into the blissful gap of ignorance will step a startup promising to keep tabs on customers' online reviews and make them pay for smack talk. And a business desperate to control its online profile will pay.
That it, they'll pay until something, or someone, forces a legal case to make it clear throughout the land: Your privacy may be in flux, but your right as a U.S. consumer to leave your customer feedback without penalty will remain uncontested.
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