[Reuters] Australia’s competition watchdog says stricter regulation may be required to address the significant market power app stores owned by Alphabet’s Google and Apple have if they do not take steps to assuage concerns.
A Google executive said on Friday that a proposed Australian law to make digital platforms pay for news was unworkable and its proposed arbitration model was biased toward media businesses.
Australia’s competition watchdog has launched an inquiry into how Google and Apple run their app stores for Android and iOS devices.
Google is being taken to court for allegedly misleading consumers to give away a lot more personal information than they had expected.
The watchdog has voiced concerns over the proposed US$2.1 billion merger, from which both users and Australian health services could lose out.
The Federal Court of Australia has ordered 2 companies to pay a combined fine of A$1.95 million (US$1.46m) for trying to lure Australian businesses into a fraudulent domain name renewal scheme. The court ordered Domain Corp Pty Ltd and Domain Name Agency Pty Ltd (also trading as Domain Name Register) pay the combined penalties for breaching the Australian Consumer Law.
From November 2015 to at least April 2017, the two companies sent out approximately 300,000 unsolicited notices to businesses, which looked like a renewal invoice for the business’s existing domain name. Instead, these notices were for the registration of a new domain name at a cost ranging from $249 (US$186) to $275 (US$206).
The Court declared that the Domain Companies made false and misleading representations and engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct in sending these notices. Australian businesses and organisations paid approximately $2.3 million to the companies as a result of receiving the notices.
“The Domain Companies misled businesses into thinking they were renewing payment for the business' existing domain name, when in fact the business was paying for a new domain name,” ACCC Acting Chair Delia Rickard said.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which took the companies to court, is warning any business or consumer receiving a renewal notice for a ‘.com’ or '.net.au’ domain name to check that the notice is to renew their proper domain name.
“These sham operations target small businesses, capitalising on a lack of understanding of the domain name system or a busy office environment. We encourage businesses to be vigilant when paying invoices, especially if it is for a domain name registration service,” Ms Rickard said.
The Court also declared that the sole director of both Domain Companies, Mr Steven Bell (also known as Steven Jon Oehlers), was knowingly concerned in, and a party to, the conduct.
The Court made other orders by consent, including injunctions for three years against each of the companies and for five years against Mr Bell. These injunctions include a requirement that if any of the parties decide to send out further notices, each notice has to prominently include the words, “This notice does not relate to the registration of your current domain name. This is not a bill. You are not required to pay any money”.
The Court also made an order disqualifying Mr Bell from managing a corporation for five years and ordered him to pay costs to the ACCC, fixed at $8,000.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is taking action against 2 fraudulent businesses that have been sending out unsolicited notices to businesses. The ACCC alleges these notices look like renewal invoices for the business’s existing domain name but instead were for the registration of a new domain name, at a cost ranging from A$249 to $275.
The businesses the ACCC has instituted proceedings against are Domain Name Corp Pty Ltd and Domain Name Agency Pty Ltd (also trading as Domain Name Register). The ACCC is also alleging that the sole director of both the Domain companies was involved in the conduct.
From November 2015 to at least April this year, the Domain Companies sent out approximately 300,000 unsolicited notices to businesses.
“The ACCC alleges that because these notices looked like they were renewal invoices, many businesses paid them thinking they were simply renewing the domain name for their business. The ACCC is alleging that the businesses were instead unwittingly signing up for a new domain name ending in either a .net.au or .com suffix that the business might not have needed or wanted,” ACCC Deputy Chair Dr Michael Schaper said.
“It is alleged that the notices sent out by the Domain Companies offered domain names that looked very similar to the business’s current domain name. This detail and the fine print disclaimer were easily missed.”
“The ACCC believes that Australian businesses and organisations paid approximately $2.3 million to the Domain Companies as a result of receiving the notices,” Dr Schaper said.
The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, corrective advertising, disqualifying orders against the director and costs.
The ACCC’s Scamwatch website has previously warned about unsolicited domain name registration offers (link is external).
Consumer Affairs Victoria has produced a video (link is external) that provides further information to businesses about unsolicited domain registration offers.
Unsolicited domain name registration offers are a type of false billing scam (link is external). In 2016, more than 14,500 individual reported to a combined loss of more than $650,000 to false billing scams.