Vodafone Australia was ordered by the country’s competition regulator to refund thousands of customers, after admitting to misleading them over content services purchased unknowingly through its third-party billing service.
In a statement, the Australian Competiton and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said the operator admitted it made “false or misleading representations” about its third-party Direct Carrier Billing (DCB) service, following an investigation by the body.
Vodafone said it likely charged consumers for content they had not agreed to buy or had purchased unknowingly from at least 2015. These include charges for ringtones, games and other digital content provided by third parties.
The probe against Vodafone follows similar action against rivals Telstra and Optus, which were both fined AUD$10 million ($7 million), over their own third-party billing services.
Vodafone escaped without a fine, but will contact potentially affected customers and offer refunds where appropriate.
ACCC said a billing service was automatically enabled on Vodafone customers’ mobile account, enabling purchases with as a little as one or two clicks which would then be charged on the subscriber’s next bill.
The DCB service ran from at least 1 January 2013 to 1 March 2018, said ACCC, and content was marketed and provided by third parties who paid Vodafone commissions for sales to its customers.
An increase in complaints about the service led to Vodafone phasing out DCB subscriptions in mid-2015, while it also cancelled its arrangement with certain parties of digital content. Consumers, however, could still have been charged for individual purchases until March 2018.
“Through this service, thousands of Vodafone customers ended up being charged for content that they did not want or need, and were completely unaware that they had purchased,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back