Internet Law

Internet Retailer Limits Negative Online Reviews in Its Terms and Conditions

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An Internet retailer called Full House Appliances expressed its displeasure when a customer posted a negative review on the ResellerRatings website.

The company dispatched an e-mail to the commenter warning that libel is a prosecutable offense in Washington State where it operates, and it intends to pursue legal action absent a mutually agreeable settlement, the New York Times reports in its Haggler column.

The e-mail asserts that the customer had violated Full House Appliance’s terms and conditions—requirements that all consumers must accept before ordering from the company.

The Times quotes from the terms and conditions, including this one: “I understand that libel is a prosecutable felony in the state where FHA operates. I agree that if I intend to provide negative feedback, the only legitimate one is based solely on verifiable and documented facts, i.e., the e-mail, live chat transcript and all the terms and conditions in the ‘About Us’ section of FHA’s website.”

The terms also impose requirements for the posting of negative feedback, including this one: “Only a non-response from FHA after 72 business hours from the time it is read can be used as a basis of negative feedback in the lack of response category, unless there is a specific time requirement for response in my e-mail due to the time sensitivity.”

The Times says the “superaggressive” contract is “evidence of the profound vulnerability that retailers now feel with the proliferation of consumer ratings sites.” Full House, which has excellent online marks at ResellerRatings, later resolved its dispute with the unhappy customer by agreeing to a refund.

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