An Australian court on Wednesday ordered Airbnb to pay a fine of 15 million Australian dollars for misleading customers by not clearly showing that prices for its property rentals were listed in U.S. dollars, instead of Australian dollars, which are worth less.
Airbnb admitted in the Federal Court of Australia that it had made “false or misleading representations” to about 63,000 customers who had used the accommodations-booking platform between January 2018 and August 2021.
In addition to the fine of 15 million Australian dollars (or about $10 million), Airbnb will provide up to another 15 million Australian dollars in compensation to the affected customers, who had made more than 70,000 bookings paid in U.S. dollars.
Gina Cass-Gottlieb, the chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, a government regulatory agency, said in a statement that customers had reasonably assumed that the prices were in Australian dollars because “they were on Airbnb’s Australian website, searching for accommodation in Australia and seeing a dollar sign.
“By paying in U.S. dollars, these consumers were charged more than they expected to pay, and were deprived of a chance to make an informed decision about whether to make the booking because of this misleading conduct regarding the price,” the statement continued.
Airbnb will contact customers who are eligible for compensation by Feb. 5, 2024, according to the commission. The agency initiated proceedings against Airbnb in June 2022.
Susan Wheeldon, Airbnb’s country manager for Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement that the company fixed how it showed currencies after the problem in Australia was raised.
“While only a very small percentage of Australian guests are believed to have been impacted, we are disappointed that this happened,” Ms. Wheeldon said. “Airbnb would like to apologize to those guests.”
About 2,088 customers complained to Airbnb customer support about being charged in U.S. dollars, according to the court ruling. Some were told by Airbnb customer support that they had chosen to see prices in U.S. currency, even though they had not, the ruling said.
Some of the customers had also been charged fees by their banks for paying in U.S. dollars, the ruling said.
Justice Brendan McElwaine of the Federal Court of Australia said in the ruling that the lack of clarity about the currency was “not the result of deliberate conduct, designed to intentionally mislead.”
The Airbnb platform should have defaulted to Australian currency for people using it in Australia, the ruling said, but there were “bugs and/or edge cases” that caused the system to inaccurately identify some users as being located in the United States.
The court ruling said that Airbnb changed the platform in August 2021 to use the “USD” abbreviation when U.S. dollars are the applicable currency.