Digital platforms are places like Google, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and online retailers. Have you ever been annoyed by something a digital platform did? Ever felt like complaining about them to someone who could do something about them?
Currently, you’re on your own, but this could change.
Telecom Industry Ombudsman
The Telecom Industry Ombudsman (TIO) wants to branch out! It currently takes on complaints about phone and internet services only. And that’s with the notable exception of the NBN (National Broadband Network.
But TIO wants to include complaints about digital platforms in what it does.
TIO is as an independent not-for-profit company authorised by telecommunications legislation. It complies with Government Benchmarks for Dispute Resolution. It is funded by its members, the telecommunications companies we complain about.
This explains why TIO is publicly campaigning for digital platforms being included in its brief. Digital platforms operate on the worldwide web. They are not beholden to Australian telecommunications legislation. They won’t sign up as members of TIO.
In other words, TIO is campaigning for Government subsidies to take on the role of digital platforms ombudsman.
It is not doing this just as a way of expanding the TIO empire.
ACCC inquiry into digital platforms
In 2019, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Inquiry into digital platforms found Australia needed an independent complaints scheme for digital platforms.
Most digital platforms will have a process to handle complaints internally. But there’s nothing between such an internal complaints process and consumers making their case to an (external) regulator.
Ombudsman schemes have proved to be highly effective and efficient at resolving customer complaints. In Australia, TIO, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority and the various state-based energy and water ombudsman schemes continue to do good work.
The ACCC defines a digital platform as a website or app used by multiple people at the same time. A digital platform and its users get value out of this.
The ACCC definition of a digital platform covers many household names. Internet search engine services – think Google. Also, social media services – think Facebook. And online private messaging services – think Whatsapp. Then there are electronic marketplaces – think eBay and Gumtree. Also included are the digital advertising services supplied by digital platforms and how digital platforms handle personal data handling.
Submission to Treasury
TIO has made a submission to the federal Treasury to take on the role of the Digital Platforms Ombudsman.
As TIO points out in its submission, it already receives complaints from consumers about digital platform services. At present, it can do little to help, except referring consumers to their local fair-trading body or to the under-resourced Australian Office of the Information Commissioner.
TIO’s submission also lists the things that go wrong on digital platforms: account access, scams and fraud, flagging of inappropriate content, and businesses disputing online reviews and comments.
These types of disputes are currently mostly not resolved and certainly not in favour of platform users.
It’s now over to the federal Treasury.