California Protects Free Speech Online with Passage of “Yelp Bill”

Since Yelp started in 2004, one of our top priorities has always been to protect the ability for consumers to share their real experiences with local businesses, and we actively advocate for laws and rules that protect people from the rare occasions where business owners may attempt to use litigation, intimidation or fines in response to a negative review.

Today we’re pleased to say that we’re making progress with the passage of Assembly Bill (AB) 2365 into law by California Governor Jerry Brown, legislation some have affectionately come to call the “Yelp Bill.”

From time to time we hear about businesses that are so afraid of what their customers might say about them that they sneak clauses into consumer contracts designed to forbid their customers from saying anything bad about them on sites like Yelp. Some of these contracts even threaten fines or legal action. These types of non-disparagement contracts not only seek to intimidate potential reviewers away from sharing their honest experiences online, but also threaten to deprive the public of useful consumer information.

A five-star rating for a business who had used one of these clauses to simply scare all negative reviewers into removing their comments wouldn’t really represent the experience a consumer could expect to have at that business in our opinion.  

AB 2365 makes it explicitly clear that non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts for goods or services in the state of California are void and unenforceable. What this means is that individuals writing online reviews in California are now further protected from those bad actors who hide jargon in consumer contracts in attempts to prohibit you from posting reviews — positive or negative — online.

While Yelp believes these types of contracts are generally unenforceable to begin with, it was important to us to work with CA state Assemblyman and former Speaker John Perez’s office as he crafted this legislation to ensure that it gave the broadest degree of protections to Yelpers in the state.

We urge other states around the country to follow the example that California has set and adopt similar laws to clarify that non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts are void and unenforceable. These types of laws are good public policy and will help to protect Yelp users and consumers worldwide.