Australia's TIO happy to take on digital platforms complaints

The telco ombudsman said it already receives complaints from digital platform users who expect it to be able to help them.

The Telecommunications Ombudsman (TIO) wants to expand its responsibilities to digital platforms, saying it considers itself a "logical vehicle" to undertake such a function.

The recommendation for an ombudsman was made by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in the final report published that followed its Digital Platforms Inquiry.

The ACCC proposed giving an ombudsman the power to investigate complaints, including about scams, on digital platforms; request for content to be taken down where appropriate; and order compensation in appropriate cases.

The scope of the ombudsman scheme and the nature of complaints and disputes that would be subject to the scheme, the ACCC explained, would be determined by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), following consultation.

In its submission [PDF] published on Friday to the Treasury's consultation on the final Digital Platforms Inquiry report, the TIO said that a single end-to-end service for escalated complaints about communications services would be beneficial for digital platforms and their users.

"While complaint frameworks are well established in other essential service areas, there are no formalised complaint escalation pathways to help achieve a satisfactory outcome about a digital platform dispute," TIO Judi Jones wrote. "We already receive complaints from digital platform users who expect us to be able to handle such escalations."

Jones said her organisation has responded to "emerging technology" and an "evolving communications sector" for more than two decades.   

In its submission, the TIO said that phone call communications have shifted from traditional methods to app-based platform such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook Messenger, and highlighted the natural progression of its own remit to these channels.

The TIO said users assume digital platforms already fall under its remit.

"The strong connection between telecommunications and digital platform services as essential communication services supports adopting a single end-to-end service for escalated communications complaints," it wrote.

In detailing its capacity to handle a large number of complaints, the TIO said that in 2018-19, it saw total complaints rise from 112,518 in 2015-16 to 167,831.

"While we would need to broaden our skills, we are experts in dispute resolution and already employ staff with the right skill sets," the TIO said.

It also said in taking on the role of the Digital Platforms Ombudsman, it would require additional funding and effective management to ensure its existing remit was not disrupted.

Given the "pervasive presence" of digital platforms, the TIO recommended the Digital Platforms Ombudsman scheme be extended to cover small business consumers, individual consumers, and any person or small business suffering harm from the action or inaction by a digital platform.

The TIO expects account and access control; advertising; small business search results; charges and billing; data access and control; identity theft, hacking, or impersonating; privacy concerns or breaches; and unwelcome notifications or communications to be the most common complaint types initially.

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