FTC Charges More Companies With Squelching Reviews

As part of a continuing crackdown, the Federal Trade Commission has brought two new prosecutions against companies that allegedly squelched online reviews.

In a complaint unveiled Monday, the FTC alleged that in 2017, property rental company Shore to Please Vacations required customers to sign contracts that restricted their ability to post feedback on sites like VRBO.com. '

Specifically, the contracts prohibited consumers from leaving negative reviews -- which the company defined as any review of less than five stars, or a rating of “absolute best.”

The FTC also alleged that not only did Shore to Please's contracts ban less-than-glowing reviews, but that the company went as far as to file suit in Walton County, Florida against vacationers who allegedly posted negative reviews. (Shore to Please, based in West Hollywood, California, rents property in Florida.)

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A second complaint released Monday involves rental company Staffordshire Property Management, based in Baltimore, Maryland. Between February 2016 and October 2018, Staffordshire allegedly required prospective renters to sign form contracts that prohibited disparagement.

The FTC alleged that both companies violated the Consumer Review Fairness Act. That law, which took effect in March 2017, invalidates standardized contractual provisions that restrict consumers' ability to post reviews.

Both companies agreed to refrain from using non-disparagement clauses in standardized contracts in the future. They also promised to inform people who previously signed contracts that the gag clauses were unenforceable.

In addition, Shore to Please Vacations agreed to drop pending allegations that a renter violated the company's contract by posting a negative review.

The new cases come several weeks after the FTC brought complaints against three other companies that allegedly stifled reviews.

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