The Australian antitrust authority has launched a case against Airbnb Inc, accusing the accommodation-sharing website of deceiving consumers into paying more for their stays than was advertised, as part of a broader investigation into global digital 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.
The ACCC stated in the submission that Airbnb refused to pay consumers who complained about being deceived, claiming that they had selected to view prices in the USD even though they had not, and that the business also refused to refund currency conversion expenses, arguing that these were the responsibility of banks.
During the time covered by the case, the Australian dollar purchased an average of 72 US cents, implying that a client renting housing for $500 would really pay about A$700 plus foreign currency expenses, according to the regulator.
In an emailed statement, Susan Wheeldon, Airbnb’s national manager for Australia and New Zealand, said, “While a fraction of a percentage of guests are suspected to have been impacted… we will reimburse affected guests.”
According to Wheeldon, Airbnb has subsequently modified its software so that applicable currencies are “clearly shown” for Australian guests on the first page.
The ACCC said that Airbnb benefited unjustly over competitors because the “false and misleadingly low pricing disclosed... made the lodging accessible on the site seem to be more appealing,” according to the lawsuit.
In an emailed statement to media, the regulator said that although the court would determine the amount of the punishment, the maximum fine per breach would be the greater of A$10 million ($7.20 million), thrice the value of the benefit acquired, or 10% of the previous year’s annual turnover.
“However, we should point out that this is merely the maximum penalty per infringement,” it said, “and the ACCC may seek a greater sum if there are several breaches.”
The action puts Airbnb in the company of a number of high-profile targets of a government looking to rein in the dominance of giant internet companies, including Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google when it comes to content licensing payments.
It is now reviewing Amazon.com Inc and other internet retailers and may make recommendations for reforms to the industry.