26 September 2023

ACCC wants laws to protect computer users

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has published a new report calling for laws to address harms caused by digital platforms impacting on consumers, small businesses and competition.

Tabling the fifth interim report of its Digital Platform Services Inquiry, ACCC’s Chair, Gina Cass-Gottlieb said the report recommended platforms be subject to mandatory dispute resolution processes and stronger requirements for combating scams, harmful apps and fake reviews.

Ms Cass-Gottlieb said the Report also proposed mandatory codes of conduct for certain platforms and services to protect and promote competition.

“Our analysis has identified concerning consumer and competition harms across a range of digital platform services that are widespread, entrenched, and systemic,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

“The critical positions that digital platforms hold as ‘gatekeepers’ or ‘intermediaries’ between businesses and consumers, mean they have a broad influence across the economy, making the reforms we are recommending crucial and necessary for all Australians,” she said.

“The ACCC and other Agencies have observed a significant and sustained increase in scams on digital platforms targeting consumers, including those experiencing vulnerability.”

Ms Cass-Gottlieb said that in addition, consumers had experienced harms from inappropriate and fraudulent apps made available on app stores, as well as from fake reviews and review manipulation.

She said digital platforms that hosted or otherwise acted as intermediaries between scammers and their victims were in a unique position to identify and stop scams and remove harmful apps.

“Losses reported to Scamwatch from scams conducted via social networking and mobile apps almost doubled in the last year between 2020 and 2021, with $49 million recorded in 2020 compared with $92 million in 2021,” the Chair said.

“This shows that digital platforms need to do more to stop their users from being scammed.”

She said the ACCC recommended new laws that: Required digital platforms to provide user-friendly processes for reporting scams, harmful apps and fake reviews; Reduce the risk of scams by verifying certain business users; Publish review verification processes to help readers of online reviews assess the reliability of reviews; and Report on scams, harmful apps and fake reviews on their services.

Ms Cass-Gottlieb said the ACCC was also recommending a new regulatory regime to work alongside Australia’s existing competition laws that would address anti-competitive conduct, unfair treatment of business users, and barriers to entry and expansion by potential rivals.

A one-page factsheet on the ACCC’s key findings can be accessed at this PS News link and its 212-page Interim Report at this link.

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