Airbnb was fined A$15 million for misrepresenting consumers in Australia

Airbnb has consented to pay A$15 million in fines and compensation following allegations that it misled approximately 63,000 Australian customers. Although this was not initially specified, the prices of some lettings on the firm’s website were in US dollars as opposed to the more affordable Australian dollars.

It meant that certain guests paid a premium for their lodgings than was initially anticipated. Airbnb has expressed its commitment to “price transparency” and issued an apology.

Wednesday marked the issuance of the sanction by the Federal Court of Australia, subsequent to Airbnb’s admission of providing inaccurate or deceptive information to Australian clients from January 2018 to August 2021.

A potential additional A$15 million has been agreed to be paid in compensation to those impacted by the short-stay rental company.

On certain accommodations listed on the Airbnb website, Australian clients initially observed a price denoted by a dollar sign, but no explicit indication that the amount reflected was in US dollars.

Until the final booking screen, where USD was displayed in a minuscule font, this remained the case. An estimated 70,000 reservations and 63,000 customers were impacted by the issue.

The court determined that a subset of the over 2,000 complaints lodged by Australian customers with Airbnb regarding charges denominated in US dollars had been misled into believing they had opted for US dollar pricing when they had not.

The case was initiated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which had ruled that prices should have been displayed in Australian dollars unless the consumer specifically requested to see the booking cost in a different currency.

The commission stated that the penalty “strongly signals to large digital platforms like Airbnb that they must refrain from misrepresenting consumers and comply with the Australian Consumer Law.” “As a result of the prevailing USD/AUD exchange rate at the time, affected consumers ultimately paid considerably more than they had anticipated,” said Gina Cass-Gottlieb, chair of the commission. “Some customers incurred additional fees with their financial institutions due to the foreign currency transactions.”

It was said by her that Airbnb should contact customers who are eligible for compensation within the next forty-five days; however, users are encouraged to get in touch with the company if they suspect they may have been affected and have not gotten a response by that time.

Since then, according to Airbnb, which operates on a global scale, prices for nations that utilise the United States dollar have been depicted differently; a three-letter code that indicates the currency is now present everywhere.

Susan Wheeldon, who is the national manager for Australia and New Zealand at Airbnb, has issued an apology and claimed that the firm is “disappointed that transpired.” However, it is believed that just a “small number” of users in Australia were affected by the incident.

She further stated that the matter had been resolved and emphasised that the final payment amount prominently featured the relevant currency code, including USD, when the guests confirmed their intention to proceed with the reservation.