The Hungarian Competition Authority (the "HCA") initiated supervision against Airbnb Ireland, private unlimited company (the "Airbnb"), the operator of a peer-to-peer online marketplace, which provides renting and booking travel accommodation. Since the supervision ended up with a voluntary commitment of Airbnb, the HCA closed the investigation without imposing fines or establishing violation of the law.
The supervision started in October 2016 against Airbnb as the HCA deemed that Airbnb provides misleading information on costs and other charges on its platform. However, although the HCA mainly deals with competition law infringements, it is also the authority, which is entitled to commence supervision relating to violation of consumer protection provisions. The competition supervision proceeding may be terminated by way of a voluntary commitment of an investigated party if the party undertakes to take measures in order to comply with the relevant acts and if the efficient protection of public interest is also ensured by such undertakings. In the event of these conditions being satisfied, the HCA may make the commitment binding without adopting an opinion regarding any infringement of the law or the lack thereof. If in the meantime the party has ceased the conduct investigated, a commitment may be undertaken for compliance with transparent and verifiable codes of conduct intended to avoid any recurrence of such infringement.
During the investigation, the HCA mainly had concerns that:
- costs and further charges (e.g. cleaning fees and taxes on tourism) relating to the accommodation are not displayed accurately or they are not shown in a timely or complete manner during the use of the webpage of Airbnb;
- the search results for an accommodation at a certain time period are not the same if the consumer uses different electronic devices (e.g. tablet, mobile phone or desktop computer);
- Airbnb does not provide complete information on the criteria used to show accommodation, for instance search history or currency exchange rate; and
- prices and costs first seen by a consumer after a search are changing during the reservation process and it is not predictable and obvious whether the consumer has to pay these amounts or not.
In the view of the above considerations, Airbnb expressed its intent to make a voluntary commitment. After a two-year long proceeding and discussion, the HCA finally terminated the competition supervision proceeding by an order making the commitment binding.
Therefore, Airbnb undertook among other things, that after giving the date of travel, consumers will be provided with
- complete and accurate information, including all costs and other charges on all electronic devices and
- disclaimers highlighting that additional taxes may increase the predicted prices.
Further, Airbnb is obliged to improve the background process in order to eliminate the differences arising from currency exchange rates and rounding-offs.
Under Hungarian law, Airbnb has to show that the company fulfilled its commitments within 120 days from receiving the order of HCA. In case of apps and the website, Airbnb will provide HCA with screenshots to present the improved booking process in a step-by-step manner and the company will also make comments on each picture in order to explain certain actions. In addition, Airbnb noted that changing the apps also depends on the negotiations with app stores, the permit thereof and the decisions of consumers on updating the apps. Consequently, Airbnb highlighted that the period of 120 days should be enough to settle with the app stores, but the company has no influence on the time period of such proceedings.
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