The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has rapped Fairfax Digital over the knuckles for misleading customers over the use of the term 'free' in conjunction with a mobile phone property listing on its Domain real estate site.
Banner advertisements promoting the new mobile phone service were published across Fairfax Digital Web sites during February and March this year. The service enables consumers to view and search property listings on Domain.com.au from their mobile phones.
An additional service allowed consumers to receive SMS alerts of properties listed on Domain.com.au. The banner advertisements 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 took issue with Fairfax's banner claim that the Domain mobile phone services were free to consumers, when in reality users would incur charges from 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," said a statement on the ACCC site.
As a result of its actions, Fairfax is required to stop publishing ads that represents Domain's mobile phone service as being for free, when in fact users will incur a telco charge; post a correction 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," said ACCC Chairman, Graeme Samuel. "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."