Are big changes for online services on the horizon?

Article published 15 February 2023

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Online services are constantly changing. Figuring out how to best protect yourself from online harms seems to be getting harder and harder.

This is one of the reasons for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) digital platform services inquiry.

Digital platform services include many things from search engines to social media to online marketplaces. If you have a computer, you’ve definitely used one before.

The main purpose of the inquiry is to look at how competition in the market and supplier practices could cause consumer harm. They’ll be finding key issues in the market and then making recommendations to Government on how to prevent said harm.

Since October 2020 the ACCC has been releasing an interim report every six months addressing potential issues with the current system.

They’ve noticed a rise in scams designed to access consumer data, harmful apps and fake reviews.

When these issues do come up, the dispute resolution process is unclear, expensive and slow so consumers have no way to resolve problems.

They’ve also found that service providers have been using their power in ways that decrease competition and lead to worse outcomes for consumers.

At the moment the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 regulates these markets, but the ACCC doesn’t think it’s doing a good enough job.

So in the most recent report they’ve suggested four interventions to try to address these issues.

Firstly, they want economy wide changes to consumer measures. This includes prohibiting against unfair trading practices and unfair contract terms.

Next is the targeted measures for digital platform services. This includes a mandatory process to prevent scams and remove them once notified of their existence. They also suggest mandatory internal and external dispute resolution standards.

To address competition issues, they’re suggesting compulsory codes of conduct specific to each type of digital platform. These codes would apply to certain platforms that meet criteria around their potential to do harm.

And finally these codes of conduct should be developed in consultation with key stakeholders to address specific competition issues relevant to each platform.

Treasury released a consultation paper and is receiving input on whether these suggestions are the best way to go.

There have already been big changes in digital protections recently with the passing of legislation prohibiting unfair contract terms and the introduction of both Consumer Data Rights and a National Anti-Scam Centre.

But with online platforms, and their risks, showing no sign of slowing down, more protection for consumers is always welcome.

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