The ACCC, Australia’s consumer watchdog, wants to clamp down on hard-to-cancel subscriptions and other unfair business practices.
Also in the ACCC’s sights are unnecessarily lengthy ‘terms and conditions’ documents and messages designed to ‘guilt trip’ customers into a purchase.
ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb highlighted the concerns in a speech at the National Press Club last week.
What is the ACCC?
The ACCC (the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) is a government agency which monitors businesses to protect the interests of consumers.
They are responsible for enforcing consumer protection laws.
Gaps in the law
For several years, the ACCC has warned of gaps in consumer laws that leave consumers open to exploitation. The ACCC is particularly worried the law has not adapted to the different risks posed by digital businesses.
In her speech last week, Cass-Gottlieb warned that consumers would remain at risk of “harm” from “manipulative practices” without tougher laws.
The ACCC published a report last November with a list of the practices in its sights. Here are a few of them.
The ACCC is concerned about businesses (especially digital ones) trying to dissuade consumers from unsubscribing to a product.
Examples may include:
- Automatic billing after a free trial
- Making it difficult to find an unsubscribe button and making the process arduous
- Confusing colouring of buttons (such as red for yes and green for no)
- Messages designed to guilt trip (e.g. ‘No thanks, I hate saving money’)
The ACCC is also concerned about businesses putting undue pressure on consumers to purchase or use a product, especially when using misleading statements to do so.
Examples may include:
- False countdown timers or low stock warnings
- Pop-up warnings to deter consumers from downloading a rival or incompatible product
- Pressuring customers to change their default browser or use a specific search engine
Terms and conditions
Consumer laws already protect consumers against a range of unfair practices in contracts – for example, you must be given a ‘real’ opportunity to understand anything you are asked to agree to, and a contract cannot take away your legal rights as a consumer.
However, the ACCC is concerned the law is not tough enough on what it calls ‘clickwrap’ consent forms – lengthy forms consumers must ‘agree’ to in order to buy something.