ACCC Punishes Fairfax Over Not So Free Service

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What’s in a word?—plenty it seems as Fairfax Digital has been rapped over the knuckles by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) over its advertisements representing the Domain mobile phone property listing search service as ‘free’, which were found to be misleading.

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Banner advertisements promoting the Domain mobile phone service were published across Fairfax Digital websites during February and March 2008. The Domain mobile phone service enables consumers to view and search property listings on Domain.com.au from their mobile phones.

The Domain mobile service also offers an optional service for consumers to receive SMS alerts of properties listed on Domain.com.au.

The banner advertisements for the Domain mobile service stated ‘Domain Goes mobile! Find your next home on your phone for free.’ and ‘Find your next home on your phone for free.’

The ACCC said it “was concerned about the banner claim that the Domain mobile phone services were free to consumers, when in fact users would incur charges by their telecommunications provider”.

The ACCC was also concerned about the banner advertisement claims that “the Domain mobile alert service was free in circumstances where users of the service would be charged 55 cents for each SMS alert. The charge for the SMS alert was only later disclosed to consumers who visited Domain.com.au to avail of the service”.

 

According to the ACCC, Fairfax Digital Australia and New Zealand Pty Ltd will from now on:

    * not publish any advertisement or promotional information on websites representing that Domain mobile phone services are free, in circumstances where consumers may incur charges or fees when using those services
    * cause a corrective notice to be published on the Domain homepage, and
    * update its trade practices law compliance program to ensure it will continue to meet its obligations under the Trade Practices Act 1974.

“The use of the word ‘free’ in advertising and promotional material is a powerful marketing tool for attracting consumers,” ACCC Chairman, Graeme Samuel, said.

“As such, consumers should be entitled to presume that when a service is advertised as ‘free’, they will not incur an unexpected fee or charge from the business itself or from a third party. This is a reminder to businesses that the ACCC will not hesitate to take action against traders who make this kind of misleading claim.”

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