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How SmileDirectClub uses NDAs to silence bad reviews

(BUSINESS NEWS) SmileDirectClub wants to tell you, in the land of freedom of expression, how to talk about their service even if a dentist has to fix their mistakes.

smiledirectclub NDA

Bad reviews can hurt any business, which is why many companies will go out of their way to ensure a customer is pleased. A restaurant might offer to replace a bad meal free of charge, for instance. A business might send customers additional free products to make up for any mistakes. SmileDirectClub, on the other hand, has taken a different approach to handling bad reviews: non-disclosure agreements.

SmileDirectClub is an aligners company that positions itself as a cheaper alternative to braces. It’s also an online company. All of this work is done remotely, with customers getting their aligners mailed to them. So, cheap and convenient. What’s not to love?

Well, turns out there might be trouble in paradise. According to an article by the New York Times, “SmileDirectClub has been the subject of more than 1,670 Better Business Bureau complaints since 2014.” In comparison, Invisalign, SmileDirectClub’s competitors, has only had five complaints over the last twenty years.

Many report that SmileDirectClub’s aligners don’t work and some have even claimed the aligners made things worse. Yeah, that’s right. Some people paid for SmileDirectClub just to turn around and have to pay an actual orthodontist just to get back to normal.

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So, naturally, SmileDirectClub is having some customers sign NDAs, which according to the New York Times includes the following: “[customer] will not make, publish, or communicate any statements or opinions that would disparage, create a negative impression of, or in any way be harmful to the business or business reputation of SDC or its affiliates or their respective employees, officers, directors, products, or services.”

Non-disclosure agreements are just one way that big companies will try to silence bad reviews. Another method is to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement. GoPro attempted this method a few years ago. Companies can also claim that bad reviews are slander written in bad faith, which is a method many organizations have abused.

It’s possible for these sorts of lawsuits can backfire, but often, the time and money it takes for an average person to take on a big company aren’t worth it. People opt to simply take down their bad reviews instead.

For a country that values freedom of speech and a robust capitalist market, silencing critics (many of whom have legitimate things to say!) doesn’t seem in line with our beliefs. Not to mention, from a more practical standpoint, I’d sure like to know the potential risks or downsides of a product.

Especially when said product is supposed to replace dental work.

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Brittany is a Staff Writer for The American Genius with a Master's in Media Studies under her belt. When she's not writing or analyzing the educational potential of video games, she's probably baking.

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