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TIO makes the case to lead world-first Ombudsman service for digital platform complaints

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) made a submission to Treasury in late February 2023 to take on the role of the Digital Platforms Ombudsman. This submission was made in response to Treasury’s follow-up consultation arising from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Inquiry into Digital Platforms.

Read the submission

This Inquiry found the lack of an independent umpire is a significant gap in the consumer protection and regulatory framework. This gap leaves consumers and small businesses with no avenue to have their complaints about digital platforms independently resolved. 

The submission outlines how the TIO is the right body to handle digital platform complaints as the organisation is an established EDR scheme trusted by industry, government and consumers. 

In addition, the TIO already receives complaints from consumers about digital platform services but can do little to help as these matters are out of its jurisdiction, and these platforms are not members of the scheme. These complaints include problems accessing an account, scams and fraudulent behaviour, and businesses disputing online reviews and comments. 

The ACCC defines a digital platform as a website or app that is used by multiple groups of people at once, and where the platform and its users get value out of the contribution and presence of other users. This can include social media or online communication apps, and internet search engines.

Quote attributable to Ombudsman Cynthia Gebert:
“In recent years, we’ve seen rapid developments in technology, regulation, and consumer expectations, and a general transition towards smartphones and other devices.”

“This convergence of telecommunications and digital platforms means people now make calls and send texts through phone apps like Whatsapp and Messenger, they do business through social media platforms like Instagram, and advertise on Google.”

“My office is already hearing about problems with digital platform services from people and small businesses who assume we are the right body to respond to these complaints.” 

“The TIO is ready to expand its remit to take complaints about digital platforms, either through a pilot or as a permanent part of our jurisdiction.”

“We have the expertise to help consumers and the digital platforms find resolution with complaints and highlight systemic improvements that can create meaningful change.”

Other key points include:

  • The role of the Digital Platforms Ombudsman will not impact service levels to telcos and telco consumers, and no subsidisation of costs incurred by the work being undertaken for establishment and operations of a DPO.
  • How the TIO will proceed next will depend on the decisions made by Treasury and the ACCC.
  • A regulatory framework is necessary to support the scheme.
  • A funding model is yet to be established.
  • The TIO have supported the proposal for a Digital Platforms Ombudsman scheme since the ACCC’s Digital Platform Services Inquiry in 2019.