If You Thought Patent Trolls Were A Scourge – Meet Their Cousin

Today, a scourge running through businesses across the globe is the now named “patent troll.” For those not that familiar with the term, in a nutshell it means a company, or someone acquires the rights to a patent then scours the landscape looking for any possible infringement that either may or may not be legitimate.

The purpose is to some how bilk money from someone (anyone) either through the courts or, just through the intimidation process of creating a court case where settling is cheaper rather than defending or fighting. i.e., “How much to make this go away?”

Currently it is taking a healthy toll on both innovation as well as balance sheets. But – that’s corporate stuff right? Not like it’s something you should concern yourself with correct? Oh contraire. Meet their newest family member coming to a web site near you. The “Review Troll.” (Yes, I just coined that term.)

Here’s an example of how this game seems to now be taking shape. It goes something like this…

You purchase an item from what you consider to be a legitimate web site or vendor. (“Consider” doesn’t imply they aren’t. They very well can be completely 100% legal, legitimate sellers of goods or services.)
Then for what ever the reasons you are dissatisfied with the transaction. You never received the product, didn’t live up to the description, you couldn’t get anyone to respond to queries, etc.

You then decide as to help others from experiencing what you just went through, you somewhere write or post a negative review of your experience. Believing, you either are helping others or, you were so infuriated you just wanted to get it off your chest. As far as you’re concerned – “It’s over!” However, for the Review Troll –  it’s just begun.

More than likely during the checkout process you just clicked that annoying “You agree to our terms and conditions” that is ubiquitous across the web as to get to the checkout screen. And you, just like most of us, never read them because we feel they’re just boiler plate stuff.

Well, what happens when within that seemingly “boiler plate” dialogue there is to be found a little unnoticed statement where as: You agree not to post any negative reviews or feedback in any form. If you do, you will be required to pay a fine to that company of THOUSANDS of dollars. Followed with: If you refuse to pay – you will be reported to the nation’s top credit bureaus.

Sounds far-fetched correct? Maybe even a little nuts you say as in, “Won’t happen. That has to be illegal or blackmail or something, but what ever it is – it’s wrong!” It would seem not only can it happen, it has happened to a couple in Utah three years after the original incident occurred. Welcome to the new age of the “Review Trolls.” 

For all intents and purposes, I believe these can be a far more debilitating and shocking a revelation on the web than its older family member. Here is a direct link to this the story via KUTV in Salt Lake City. I highly encourage you to view or read it.

In a time where companies and individuals on-line are desperately trying to produce some if not any type of revenue. There will be those out there that will turn to desperate measures, and for some, they will use it as a sword to ward of negative reviews feeling they are within their legitimate rights to do so. This is going to be a mess and I fear will get far worse before it gets better.

Just as in the past companies would send never ordered merchandise to homes and businesses with the seemingly non-threatening note of: “If you like it, keep it and send us a check. If not – just ship it back.” Only to know all too well there would be a myriad of people who would just keep it thinking “Hey I didn’t order this, tough luck on you, I’m keeping it!” Or, “I never received such an item.” Only to then find a torrent of never-ending invoices, then demands, warnings, then suits for penalty to pay. Ruining people’s credit and or good names.

Finally it was challenged in courts and found an illegal or entrapment like practice and was stopped.  (That’s basically why you have the ability to throw junk mail out without opening it. You can’t be bound without your consent.)

Where this goes from here is anyone’s guess. However, I believe this will get far worse going forward before it gets better. Especially since there is the very real possibility there will be people who will take an attitude similar to what many businesses do today: Right, wrong, doesn’t matter. The first instinct of, “How much to make this go away?”

Which feeds the monster even more.

© 2013 Mark St.Cyr