The Digital Platform Inquiry and Technology Enabled Scams
A policy primer for NET303 by Barbara Jara
The Digital Platforms Inquiry report outlines recommendations on a range of issues, including emerging trends that have the potential to threaten the rights, privacy and autonomy of individuals (ACCC, 2019). Chapter 8 of the report discusses the increasing existing harms caused by online scams.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission identified digital platforms such as Facebook and Google, as gateways with immense market power, which allow businesses to reach consumers, and consumers to reach advertising and news media. For this reason, the Competition and Consumer regulator took a holistic approach that also covered advertising and media.
One of the key findings of the report indicates a significant increase in online scams that cause consumer and business harm. Online scams deceive consumers with fake texts, email, ads and websites to gain access to confidential information, including credit card details.
A common scam targeting Australia Post customers sends false text and email messages about postage charges that need to be paid in order to complete a package delivery. The amount requested is often negligible (as little as $1), which a consumer may pay believing that they were in error or they may not being able to distinguish between a legitimate message from Australia Post and fraud.
The financial impact of online scams is staggering. According to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network, $489.7 million in financial losses were reported in 2018, an increase of 44% over the 2017 reported amount. The majority of scams are delivered by phone, text and email.
There are several agencies that Australian consumers can report to for different scams, however if there has been a financial loss, it is unlikely that consumers will ever get their money back (ACMA, 2019; AFP, 2019; ASIC, 2018). A bank may be able to stop a money transfer or close an account but if money has been sent to an overseas company, Australian government agencies cannot recover the loss because the company is out of their jurisdiction.
Neither Google nor Facebook provide clear information about what a consumer should do if they are victims of an online scam that results in financial loss. Their policies give the illusion of data control but are lacking in transparency, are difficult to navigate and the expectation is placed on consumers to not engage in deceptive practices. The ACCC also notes that both Google and Facebook need to do more to take down scam ads.
In order for real change to occur, the ACCC proposes is a set of minimum standards for digital platforms to comply with:
- The procedures should be visible and accessible, with a clear response time, so that consumers know how to make a complaint or dispute, and consumers and businesses can contact the digital platform directly, for example by calling an Australian phone number
- Complaints and disputes should be confidential and handled in an objective, unbiased manner, and the process should be free
- Top management of the platforms should be made aware of complaints and disputes and be held accountable
- There should be a commitment to resolve complaints and disputes, with continual improvement of the process and adequate resources allocated to the procedures in Australia
- Finally, complaints and disputes should be recorded, classified, analysed and evaluated so that recurring problems and trends can be identified and addressed.
The ACCC also recommends the establishment of an ombudsman scheme to resolve complaints and disputes with digital platform providers, giving consumers and businesses a single point of contact for resolutions.
In order to secure these systems, the three power structures need to work collaboratively. Consumers, regulators and service providers have a shared responsibility. Platform service providers must have minimum standards to follow and should invest in updated defense mechanisms. The regulator uses political power to enforce standards that ensure attack mechanisms and vulnerabilities in the system are addressed. Consumers are provided with education about keeping their private personal details safe, and they need to use their cultural power to influence politics and define the values and expectations for how platforms use, store and manage their data. (Fuchs 2015; Ali et al 2019).
20 years ago, scholars argued that cyberspace would radically change the legal system and would require new rules to govern the internet independent of physical location (Johnson and Post, 1997). However, the Digital Platform Inquiry shows that nation states and territories benefit from implementing a system that allows ongoing monitoring and regulations that meet the needs of the people. Platforms accessed by Australian consumers within Australia, need the protection of Australian consumer laws.
Ali, M.A.., Azad, M. A., Centeno, M. P., Hao, F., Moorsel, A. (2019). Consumer-facing technology fraud: Economics, attack methods and potential solutions. Future Generation Computer System 100(2019),408-427. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.future.2019.03.041
Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). (2019). Spam and telemarketing. Retrieved from https://www.acma.gov.au/Citizen/Complaints/Telco-complaints-2/Spam-and-telemarketing
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). (2019). Digital Platforms Inquiry – Final Report. Retrieved from https://www.accc.gov.au/focus-areas/inquiries-ongoing/digital-platforms-inquiry/final-report-executive-summary
Australian Federal Police (AFP). (2019). Report a Commonwealth crime. Retrieved from https://www.afp.gov.au/contact-us/report-commonwealth-crime
Australia Post. (2019). Scams targeting Australia Post customers. Retrieved from https://auspost.com.au/about-us/about-our-site/online-security-scams-fraud/scam-alerts
Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC). (2018). What to do if you’ve been scammed. Retrieved from https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/scams/recovering-your-losses
David, J. and Post, D. (1997). Law and Borders – the Rise of law in Cyberspace. Stanford Law Review 48(1997),1376. Retrieved from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=535
Facebook. (2019). How to Report Things on Facebook. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/help/reportlinks
Google LLC. (2017). Google Terms of Service. Retrieved from https://policies.google.com/terms