The 49 page report comments that -
Australians face a complex, confusing and often inconsistent environment when it comes to regulating how businesses and consumers should conduct themselves online.This Report examines 16 codes of conduct that are relevant to Australian consumers when they engage in online activity (13 active codes and 3 draft codes). It is the first report to analyse the numerous codes of conduct that have been developed in Australia to address online conduct.The report identifies 13 codes that are currently in force and three significant draft codes. Those codes are -
These codes, individually and together, offer online users the prospect of assistance dealing with unsatisfactory conduct by businesses and others, but whether they meet expectations has been unclear.
The Report compares each code against best practice guidance on the development and implementation of codes of conduct issued by Australian regulators. The report also examines the coverage of codes, through an analysis of the code coverage amongst the top 50 websites visited by Australian consumers, and the top 19 ISPs by Australian market share.
In effectThe authors identified several consumer issues -
1. Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code
2. ePayments Code
3. [Internet] Content Services Code
4. Interactive Gambling Industry Code
5. Internet Industry Spam Code of Practice
6. e-Marketing Code of Practice
7. Australian Best Practice Guidelines for Online Behavioural Advertising
8. IIA Family Friendly ISP Seal
9. Australian Association of National Advertisers Code of Ethics
10. iCode (E-Security Code for ISPs)
11. IIA Codes for Industry Co-Regulation in Areas of Internet and Mobile Content
including Content Code 1 (Hosting Content in Australia), Content Code 2 (Providing
Access to Content Hosted Within Australia) and Content Code 3 (Providing Access to
Content Hosted Outside Australia
12. IIA Responsible Internet Business Program - 10 Point User Protection Code of Ethics
13. Australian Group Buying Code of Conduct
1. IIA Privacy Code
2. IIA Industry Copyright Code
3. Best Practices for Dating Websites
• the very number of codes which could potentially be applicable to a given online transaction or issue;They comment that -
• the complexity of their overlapping coverage;
• wide variations in language, procedure, remedies and robustness;
• uncertainty about coverage and ‘jurisdiction’ broadly considered, including an often limited or non-existent capacity to involve dominant online service providers operating offshore;
• patchy or very low sign-up by industry participants, and in some cases difficulty in ascertaining who is a ‘member’ of the code and what this means;
• inconsistent approaches to effective complaint handling;
• inconsistent or undeveloped approaches to cross-referral to other codes or code bodies where an inquiry may be outside scope of the first code considered (to prevent ‘falling through the cracks’); and
• a tendency to focus on industry rather than consumer convenience in regulatory scheme design
the majority of codes require companies to subscribe to the code before coverage can be assured, and for most codes sign-up rates are very low.
In addition, many of the top 50 websites visited by Australian consumers are hosted outside Australia by organisations that appear unlikely to sign up to Australian codes of conduct. However, there are some very limited examples of global companies signing key Australian codes.
Overall the coverage of the 13 codes appears to be very poor. Simply having a large number of codes does not ensure consumer protection if most codes only have a few signatories.
Organisations are also faced with a difficult decision in deciding which codes to sign. ... The benefits of signing additional codes diminish rapidly once an organisation is already covered by one code.
There are significant overlaps in code content amongst the 13 codes in force and the three draft codes.
The main overlaps are in the areas of:• privacy protection;Some of these requirements appear in more than ten of the codes in the study. These overlaps have a range of impacts for potential signatories, including:
• truth in advertising;
• refunds and returns; and
• the prohibition against sending spam.• uncertainty about which and how many to join, or whether they are eligible, or required, to join;The overlaps may also cause concerns for consumers, including:
• whether their obligations would vary between the codes;
• the necessity to understand the details of overlap; and
• implications for compliance with overlapping and potentially inconsistent frameworks.• uncertainty about which and how many codes might cover a particular situation or concern;
• whether codes covering similar concerns are consistent on specific points;
• the implications of any inconsistency;
• whether there is effective referral between codes where one has more direct relevance than another; and
• whether there are implications for successful resolution of concerns arising from deciding to start with one rather than another possibly relevant code.