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Watch your words: they might just be illegal

Watch your words: they might just be illegal

Eva Fernandes is surprised to find out that posting a review of a poor customer service experience is actually outlawed in the UAE.

August 7, 2011 3:28 by



There was an interesting story concerning libel in the UAE in The National this Sunday surrounding one particular website called dubainameshame.com. The website, as its name would suggest provided a forum on which users could name and shame, with the occasional help of photographs, bad drivers they have encountered on the roads and bad instances of customer services they’ve experienced. Though initially very successful, (#DubaiNameShame attracted more than 600 followers and more than 4,700 tweets in three months alone) the website currently is in the process of being “redesigned”. The reason being, naming and shaming is illegal.

Lt Col Saif Al Mazrouei, acting director of the Dubai Police general traffic department told The National: “These websites are not regulated and could cause more harm than good. (…) We have our own violation system where we collect pictures and calls and process violations against drivers that way.”

Now, it doesn’t really come as a surprise that the authorities come down this harshly on naming and shaming particular individuals, but we are a little surprised to see similar standards being held for corporations. Dr Ali Al Jarman, a lawyer and legal adviser, has insisted that publishing any kind of negative review of a corporation could also be construed as illegal: “They’re harming the reputation of, say, a bank. Anything that will harm their name is against the law.”

Kipp isn’t going to argue with the fact that the posting pictures of individual’s license plate is definitely an invasion of privacy of sorts and even libelous. But as far as customer service is concerned, in this day of sophisticated customer feedback through social media should there be reconsideration for this particular law?

This entire episode reminds Kipp sorely of the Benihana-blogger episode. Do you remember that shameful instance of corporate PR at its worst, when Kuwaiti blogger TWOFOURTYEIGHTAM posted a luke-warm review of the local Benihana he had visited, Benihana management replied to his post with the threat of a potential lawsuit?

Posting reviews online have long become an established part of the consumer experience. There are websites dedicated to provide a forum for consumers to post their experience with almost every aspect of consumerist society: from mobile phones, restaurants to airlines. If indeed the UAE does pride itself on being the business hub of the Middle East, the pinnacle of shopping extravaganzas; shouldn’t its legislation reflect it?



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4 Comments

  1. Andrew on August 8, 2011 7:31 am

    Well that makes sense, just about any government or public service that asks you for feedback offers “fair” as the lowest possible response.

    Quite literally impossible to give poor feedback through any formal process here.

     
  2. Dino on August 11, 2011 12:53 pm

    Till now consumers or investors have no way to engage any company in Dubai as there are none of the consumer laws seem to be applicable. No it seems these greedy and unprofessional corporations have an extra immunity layer. They are even more protected against their bad behaviour and low business ethics. This will further destroy consumer and investors trust in Dubai as an investement and place to live. When we will see journalists being jailed for writing an article?

     
  3. Ali on August 17, 2011 12:58 pm

    i think it makes sense. A company’s reputation will be harmed by an angry customer. If its business suffers because of a negative review, the author of the review should be taken to task.

    A person or company’s honor is above everything, it makes sense to have rules that protect it.

     
  4. Andrew on August 18, 2011 6:50 am

    Yes Ali, that’s why libel and slander laws exist in many countries, however those only protect organisations from lies about the organisation as a whole, or lies about the safety about products & services. They do not cover the general quality or experience of the product or service offered – that is entirely fair game.

    Ali, the only companies that have taken hits when customers speak out is those that deserve to. On the other hand, there are some who we hear bad things about constantly, and not a dent is made – because the majority of customers know otherwise.

    Business is business, if you’re not prepared to take criticism you shouldn’t be running a company.

     

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