ACCC recommends greater protection for consumers online

Web code displayed on a black computer screen

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) last month released the final report of its Digital Platforms Inquiry. The report makes 23 recommendations for reform to the competition law, consumer protection practices, privacy law and media regulation that govern digital platforms.

The digital platforms covered by the inquiry are search engines, social media platforms and digital content aggregation platforms. The report identifies Facebook and Google as the two largest digital platforms in Australia which hold a great amount of influence and significance for Australian consumers.

Some issues of particular interest to consumer advocates include the proposal to establish an Ombudsman scheme to resolve complaints and disputes with digital platform providers and recommendations on unfair trading practices and privacy. 

Establishing an Ombudsman scheme

The report states that the Ombudsman should have the ability to compel information, make decisions that are binding on digital platforms, order compensation in appropriate cases and compel digital platforms to take down scam content.

The Ombudsman scheme should be implemented along with internal dispute resolution standards which set out the requirements for the visibility, accessibility, responsiveness, objectivity, confidentiality and collection of information of digital platforms’ internal dispute resolution processes.

Addressing unfair trading practices

To address unfair trading practices the ACCC recommends that unfair contract terms be prohibited and attract civic pecuniary penalties. Currently, terms identified as unfair contract terms under Australian Consumer Law are merely void and consumers cannot seek penalties for them. The ACCC proposes introducing this prohibition and penalties for the use of unfair contract terms to increase the deterrent effect of the Australian Consumer Law.  

Reform to privacy law

The report recommends strengthening protections in the Privacy Act to better protect consumers’ information and to increase transparency in data collection. Reforms to the Privacy Act should also make it a requirement for some digital platforms to erase the personal information of a consumer without undue delay on receiving a request for erasure from the consumer.

The report flagged the ACCC’s interest in a consumer data right applying to the platforms, or another way to compel data sharing to reduce barriers to entry, but didn’t make a specific recommendation pending future work.

The report reveals that significant reform is needed to rectify the information and power asymmetries in the relationship between consumers and digital platforms. View the ACCC Final Report on Digital Platforms here.