Angie Hicks letter to US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation re: Consumer Review Freedom Act

November 3, 2015

U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Re: S. 2044, the Consumer Review Freedom Act

Angie Hicks, founder and Chief Marketing Officer, Angie’s List

Senator Thune,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak out strongly in favor of this legislation. Thank you and Sens. Moran and Schatz for bringing this important matter to the nation’s attention. I am sorry that other obligations kept me from addressing you in person about this important legislation but I welcome continued discussion about this matter in the weeks and months ahead.

On behalf of our member and all consumers, I have been speaking in opposition to efforts to stifle honest expression since we discovered in 2009 that some within the medical community were inserting “Mutual Agreement to Maintain Privacy” forms within their patient paperwork.

I am proud that Angie’s List was one of the first to speak out against this practice and helped end the trend in the health care arena. When we learned about the agreements, the company pushing them had already signed up 2,000 physicians.

I started speaking out about it to the national news media – TV news shows, newspapers, online publications – any outlet that would help us raise awareness. I wrote repeatedly about it on my blog, and warned our members through our magazine, emails and alerts on company profiles.

Not long after we started speaking out, the company selling the agreements to physicians reached out to me personally to try to convince me the agreements were a good step forward. Suffice it to say I was not convinced.  Not long after that, the company stopped selling the agreements.

Unfortunately, since then, other similar efforts have erupted in other types of business. The latest efforts are “non-disparagement clauses” within service contracts, which businesses use to threaten legal action against their own customers simply for speaking their mind.

The bipartisan Consumer Review Freedom Act would prohibit the use of these clauses, agreements and waivers, which are blatant – though often cleverly disguised – efforts to strip Americans of their right to honestly discuss their service experience.

Angie’s List has collected and shared consumer reviews for 20 years in an effort to help consumers find reliable, high quality service companies and just recently accepted our 10 millionth verified review.  We have never accepted anonymous reviews and we require members to affirm they are giving us their honest feedback on their own experience.

I could spend hours telling you of the companies that have been able to grow from literally “a guy in a truck” to thriving businesses, including franchises across the country because they have earned high grades from Angie’s List members.

I could give you dozens of examples of companies that earned negative reviews from Angie’s List members, took that criticism to heart, made the members whole and turned their businesses around thanks to the customer insight.

A common argument for using gag orders is that they protect companies from untrue and/or anonymous criticism. At Angie’s List, our members reaffirm they are giving honest feedback about their own experience each time they submit a review. If reviews – on our site or any other – are untrue or malicious, there are already legal remedies at hand under existing libel and defamation laws.

I don’t think you need me to tell you that stifling consumer expression is simply wrong. There is no benefit or need for these gag orders whatsoever.

As a consumer advocate, Angie’s List can only go so far to stop this kind of unwarranted, right-stifling tactics. But you, the Congress, can outlaw these practices.

I urge you to use your power, pass this legislation and stand up for consumers.

 

Angie Hicks

Founder and CMO Angie’s List

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