Marc Lifsher

Bill would create new protection for shoppers who write online reviews

[Commentary] Some bills that ordinarily might generate some controversy fly through the Legislature with nary a vote against them. Consider AB 2365 by Assembly Speaker Emeritus John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles).

Introduced in February, it has encountered almost no opposition. The bill seeks to provide some new legal protection for consumers who offer online opinions or comments. It would make it illegal for retailers to require customers to agree not to complain publicly, such as in online reviews, about their purchases.

If merchants think that our 1st Amendment free speech rights need to be curtailed, they should say so upfront and in plain language. Such legalese often is found in small type in pop-up windows that prompt online buyers to agree to the terms before completing a purchase. Merchants, before threatening to or taking legal action, would have to prove that a customer knowingly and voluntarily agreed to not post negative comments.

Verizon accused of forcing Internet phones on land-line users

Two years ago, California's two giant telecom companies and their Silicon Valley allies won passage of a law freeing phone-over-the-Internet calls from government regulation.

The 2012 law was essential to the creation of high-tech products and services, the industry argued. Its proposal bowled over opposition from consumer advocates. But this deregulation was never supposed to affect phone customers who didn't want to give up their traditional copper-wire land lines, the bill's author, Sen Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), insisted during the debate. Now, complaints are mounting that at least one telecom, Verizon Communications , is doing just that. The company is accused of forcing sometimes unwitting Southern California customers to switch from copper lines to voice-over-Internet connections.

An investigation by the Utility Reform Network, known as TURN, culled the files at the PUC's consumer bureau and found 32 complaints from ratepayers that Verizon doesn't maintain its copper network and is pushing households to reportedly less-reliable Internet phones.

Auto clubs back bill to give car owners control of their onboard data

California's two giant automobile clubs unveiled legislation that they said would give car owners control over a wide range data streaming from their vehicles.

The bill, SB 994, was immediately attacked by auto manufacturers as a bid to generate more insurance revenue for the Automobile Club of Southern California and its AAA counterpart in Northern California. Information covered by the legislation could include a car's mechanical performance and location as well as a driver's cellphone or entertainment system usage.

"Our cars are quickly becoming mobile computers," said bill author Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel). "While this technology provides several important benefits to consumers, it is imperative that there are basic safeguards in place to ensure consumers can decide who has access to their data."

The proposal, which should get its first committee hearing in mid-April, would ensure consumers know and understand what information is being collected and transmitted to the automaker, guarantee that car owners and their designates have access to all the data and give owners control over who can see the information to service the vehicle.