An Australian court on Wednesday ordered Airbnb to pay a fine of 15 million Australian dollars for misleading customers by not clearly showing that the prices of its rental properties were expressed in US dollars, rather than Australian dollars, which are worth less.
Airbnb admitted before the Federal Court of Australia that it had made “false or misleading representations” to about 63,000 customers who had used the accommodation booking platform between January 2018 and August 2021.
In addition to the fine of 15 million Australian dollars (or about 10 million dollars), Airbnb will provide up to another 15 million Australian dollars in compensation to affected customers, who had made more than 70,000 reservations paid in US dollars.
Gina Cass-Gottlieb, chairwoman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, a government regulatory agency, said in a statement that customers had reasonably assumed the prices were in Australian dollars because “they were on the Australian Airbnb website, looking for accommodation in Australia and seeing a dollar sign.
“By paying in US dollars, these consumers were charged more than they expected to pay and were deprived of the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to book due to this misleading pricing conduct,” the statement continued. .
Airbnb will contact customers who are eligible for compensation by February 5, 2024, according to the commission. The agency initiated proceedings against Airbnb in June 2022.
Susan Wheeldon, Airbnb Country Manager for Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement that the company fixed how it displayed coins after the issue was raised in Australia.
“Although only a very small percentage of Australian guests are believed to have been affected, we are disappointed this has happened,” Ms Wheeldon said. “Airbnb would like to apologize to those guests.”
Around 2,088 customers complained to Airbnb customer service because they were being charged in US dollars. according to the court ruling. Airbnb customer service told some that they had chosen to see prices in U.S. currency, even though they had not done so, according to the ruling.
Some of the customers had also been charged fees by their banks for paying in U.S. dollars, according to the ruling.
Judge Brendan McElwaine of the Federal Court of Australia said in the ruling that the lack of clarity over the currency “was not the result of deliberate conduct, designed to intentionally deceive.”
The Airbnb platform should have defaulted to the Australian currency for people using it in Australia, according to the ruling, but there were “errors and/or edge cases” that caused the system to inaccurately identify some users as being located in the United States.
The court ruling said Airbnb changed the platform in August 2021 to use the abbreviation “USD” when the applicable currency is the US dollar.
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