Australia's antitrust authority has filed a complaint against Airbnb Inc, alleging the accommodation-sharing website of deceiving consumers into paying more for their stays than promised, thereby expanding its examination of global technology platforms.
Airbnb refused to issue refunds to users who claimed they were deceived, claiming they selected to view rates in U.S. dollars while claiming they did not, the ACCC stated in its submission.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) stated that Airbnb refused to reimburse currency conversion fees, stating they were the responsibility of banks.
In a court complaint made public on Wednesday, the regulator alleged that from 2018 to 2021, the San Francisco-based internet giant marketed and charged accommodation prices in U.S. dollars without revealing the significantly higher amounts in Australian dollars.
Susan Wheeldon, Airbnb's country manager for Australia and New Zealand stated, "While a small number of guests are likely to have been impacted, we will compensate those who have been affected."
Wheeldon disclosed that Airbnb has modified its software so that applicable currencies are "clearly visible" on the home page for Australian guests.
The lawsuit places Airbnb with other prominent targets of a regulator intent on curbing the dominance of large technology companies. Facebook and Google paid media outlets content license fees due to their actions in 2013.
It is now conducting an assessment of Amazon.com Inc. and other online retailers, which may result in sector-wide recommendations.
In its case against Airbnb, the ACCC alleged that users "were deprived of the chance to make an informed decision regarding whether and at what price to book accommodation."
They "suffered additional loss in the form of pricing differential charges and, in at least some instances, transaction fee costs," the regulator said, without providing monetary figures.
Airbnb stood to gain an unfair advantage over competitors because the "false and deceptively low pricing communicated... made the accommodations available on the platform appear more desirable," according to the ACCC.
The ACCC has stated that it intends to seek an unspecified fine and court orders requiring Airbnb to pay affected consumers. In a statement, Airbnb stated that thousands of people had complained about the discrepancy between advertised and actual fees.
During the time period covered by the case, the Australian dollar purchased an average of 72 U.S. cents, so a client reserving a $500-advertised room would really spend roughly A$700 plus foreign currency fees, according to the regulator.