Australia's consumer watchdog has commenced proceedings against Airbnb for false or misleading representations about their services. The ACCC argues that Airbnb had made it unclear that the dollar sign ($) they were displaying on their website was in American dollars ('USD') instead of Australian dollars ('AUD'). This has reportedly affected thousands of Australian Consumers between January 2018 to August 2021.
Harm to Consumers
Customers who booked their accommodation either through the Airbnb website or app were charged more than they were expecting. Due to the Australian Dollar averaging a price of 0.72 USD, a customer who thought that they were paying $500 AUD was instead paying approximately $700 USD for their accommodation (price difference cost). Additionally, some consumers also had to pay additional transaction charges to their banks which would not have been levied if the representation was in AUD (Transaction Fee Costs). In cases where consumers were using the .au website for Airbnb, there were no references that the currency that they were paying in was USD. In other cases, there were references to the currency being in USD but this was often in a smaller font which was obscure to many consumers using the Airbnb website.
Aside from paying more than they thought, consumers were deprived of the chance to make an informed choice about how much they were willing to spend on their accommodation. There were commercial benefits to Airbnb in making this misrepresentation to customers as many would not have booked their accommodation if they realised the currency was in USD. The travel lodge giant has benefitted through misrepresenting their prices to consumers as a whole. Moreover, the ACCC also alleges that in instances where consumers were misled about the $ amount, Airbnb did not compensate customers.
"Airbnb did not compensate many consumers who complained about this conduct, and so we will be arguing that the court should order Airbnb to compensate people who were misled about the price of their accommodation1"
The ACCC has claimed that Airbnb has broken section 29(i) of the ACL which outlines that a person must not, in trade or commerce in connection with the supply of goods or services make a false or misleading representation with respect to the price of goods or services. Additionally, they seek to claim2:
- A declaration under section 21 of the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976 (Cth);
- An injunction under section 232 of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), contained in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth);
- Pecuniary penalties under section 224 of the ACL;
- Orders for redress for non-party consumers under section 239 of the ACL;
- Publication and compliance orders under section 246 of the ACL; and
- Costs under section 43(1) of the FCA Act.
What Implication does this Decision hold?
While this case does not introduce anything new as it is the responsibility of businesses to ensure the accuracy of the information of their products, by taking this actions against Airbnb, the ACCC is making it clear to businesses who conduct business on digital platforms to warrant that the information and the way they display it is as clear as possible for consumers.
"By taking this action, we are stating very clearly that digital platforms like Airbnb need to ensure the accuracy of all statements that may affect consumers' purchasing decisions3"
Companies who primarily conduct business through digital platforms should ensure the accuracy of all the information they provide.
1"Airbnb allegedly misled Australians about accommodation prices", Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (Media Release, 8 June 2022) https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/airbnb-allegedly-misled-australians-about-accommodation-prices#:~:text=The%20ACCC%20alleges%20that%2C%20between,those%20prices%20were%20in%20US
2"ACCC v Airbnb Ireland UC and Airbnb, Inc. Filing for Notice", (Concise Statement, 8 June 2022)
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