The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has developed this guidance for sharing economy platform operators to encourage compliance with Australia’s competition and consumer protection laws.
The sharing economy is made up of businesses operating online platforms that facilitate the connection of suppliers of goods and services with consumers needing (generally) short term use of those goods or services. Platform operators generally provide administrative functions, such as facilitating payment and managing the operation of the market including through the use of peer reviews.
Many sharing economy platform operators use reviews and ratings as a means of managing trust and safety. This guidance is especially targeted at this category of platform operator.
Businesses that act as classified markets (such as Ebay and Gumtree), connecting buyers and sellers of goods or that supply goods for the shared use of consumers (for example, companies that charge membership fees to access company owned cars) do not form part of the sharing economy. This guidance is not intended for such businesses, although many of the points discussed are relevant to them and a best practice approach is for such businesses to follow this guidance.
The sharing economy potentially benefits individuals and consumers. Consumers can get greater choice and often cheaper prices. Individuals can become traders and operate their own part time or small business.
Relying on platforms means there is typically a significant imbalance in size, scale and power between consumers and traders on one hand and platform operators on the other. To enable the benefits of the sharing economy to flow to consumers and small businesses, it is vital that platform operators understand where and how their conduct could cause harm to consumers and traders. Like all businesses, platform operators must be aware of and comply with their obligations under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA) and the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
Platform operators play a key role in providing education and information to traders that use their platforms and should work with traders to ensure compliance with consumer protection laws. They should also ensure they have clear processes and policies for complaint handling and dispute resolution and take an active role in monitoring and addressing conduct that has the potential to harm consumers or traders who use their platform.
The ACCC has developed this guidance to help platform operators comply with their legal obligations. It is a general guide only and is not a substitute for independent legal advice. Platform operators should seek professional advice for any specific questions or concerns.