The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on Tuesday released its compliance and enforcement policy for 2019, with a key enforcement priority being to ensure large retailers and manufacturers abide by consumer guarantee laws for high value electrical goods such as computers.
"Electrical and whitegoods products are the second most complained about industry after motor vehicles," ACCC chair Rod Sims said during his annual address to the Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA).
In 2018, nearly 9,000 complaints were made about electrical appliances and whitegoods, with around 75 percent being related to breakdowns or other quality issues.
With laws being passed in August that increased the maximum penalties for breaches of Australian Consumer Law -- from up to AU$1.1 million to the greater of AU$10 million, or three times the benefit from the conduct or, where the benefit cannot be calculated, 10 percent of annual Australian sales turnover -- Sims said in his speech that the legislative changes will improve overall deterrence.
When the legislation was still making its way through the House of Representatives, Sims said at the time that the ACCC was getting better at arguing for more meaningful sanctions for consumer protection, pointing to the AU$10 million extracted from Telstra and AU$9 million from Apple in 2018.
"This is not an aberration, but rather the new framework for penalties, and you can expect the ACCC to have very different discussions with you and your clients to resolve matters when it comes to agreed penalties," Sims said at the time.
Other enforcement and compliance priorities the ACCC has introduced for 2019 include: Competition and consumer issues arising from customer loyalty schemes; advertising practices on social media platforms and "subscription traps"; and complex and opaque pricing practices by energy companies and telcos.
Sims also used his annual speech to CEDA to give an update on the digital platforms inquiry, which he introduced in last year's address to CEDA, saying the inquiry would be completed mid-year. The digital platforms inquiry examines the effect of search engines, social media platforms, and other digital content aggregation platforms on competition across media and advertising services markets.
On the Consumer Data Right (CDR), the ACCC is still writing the rules for the CDR system, as well as building an address book and accreditation process to facilitate the sharing of data, the ACCC Chair said.
The CDR will allow individuals to "own" their data by granting them open access to their banking, energy, phone, and internet transactions, as well as the right to control who can have it and who can use it.
From July 1, Australia's major banks will be required to make generic banking data available, by way of an Open Banking Regime, under the first tranche of the CDR.
With the next phase of CDR concerning energy data, the ACCC released a consultation paper earlier this week on data access models for energy data, saying it was seeking comments on the proposed models for consumers to access their data in the sector.
"In energy, one relevant consideration is that energy data on an individual consumer may be held by a number of organisations and it may not be possible for a single entity to provide sufficient data alone," the paper says.
"It may therefore be appropriate to impose obligations under the CDR on more than one entity and unlike in the banking sector, the market operator also holds some customer data."
The ACCC is currently unsure, however, as to what energy-related information will be available under Australia's new data-sharing directive.
The Consumer Data Right will initially apply explicitly to Australia's big four banks from July 1.
Decision timeline is suspended until the ACCC gets the information it needs.
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