The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has filed a complaint against Airbnb Inc, alleging the accommodation-sharing website of deceiving consumers into paying more than advertised for their stays, broadening its investigation of global technology platforms.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) stated in a court statement on Wednesday that from 2018 to 2021, the San Francisco-based internet giant marketed and charged accommodation prices in US dollars without mentioning the substantially higher values in Australian dollars.
Airbnb declined to compensate consumers who complained about being deceived, stating that they had selected to view rates in USD even though users said they had not, according to the ACCC filing. The company also refused to refund currency conversion expenses, arguing that these were the responsibility of banks.
During the time period covered by the case, the Australian dollar bought an average of 72 US cents, implying that a client renting housing marketed at $500 would really spend roughly A$700 plus foreign currency expenses, according to the regulator.
“While a fraction of a percentage of guests are believed to have been impacted … we will compensate affected guests,” Susan Wheeldon, Airbnb’s country manager – Australia and New Zealand, said in an emailed statement, but declined to offer further details.
Airbnb, according to Wheeldon, has since modified its site so that applicable currencies are “clearly shown” from the first page for Australian visitors.
The ACCC said in the case that Airbnb benefited unjustly over competitors because the “false and misleadingly low pricing provided… made the accommodation available on the platform appear to be more appealing.”
While the court would determine the amount of the penalty, the regulator told Reuters in an emailed response that the maximum fine per breach would be the greater of A$10 million ($7.20 million), three times the value of the benefit obtained, or ten percent of the annual turnover made in the previous year.
“However, we note this is only the maximum penalty per breach, and the ACCC may seek a higher amount if there are multiple breaches,” it added.
The complaint places Airbnb in the company of other high-profile targets of a regulator determined to limit the dominance of large technology businesses, including Meta Platforms Inc’s (FB.O) Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google in terms of content licensing costs.
It is now reviewing Amazon.com Inc and other internet retailers and may recommend reforms to the industry.
(Adapted from ABC.au.com)