On 28 November 2014, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ("ACCC") released a report on the comparator website industry in Australia examining the benefits and risks posed by the industry for both consumers and businesses based on its consultations with more than 20 stakeholders across industry, regulator, and consumer groups.
The ACCC has expressed particular concern about lack of transparency within the website comparator industry, and believes this can be addressed by ensuring comparator websites provide extensive market coverage and provide their services in an unbiased and impartial manner. To achieve this, the ACCC has specifically identified several factors on which it will focus when assessing the transparency of comparator websites: actual savings achieved by consumers; clear rankings of service providers according to relative value offered to customers; quality assurance; and undisclosed commercial relationships.
The ACCC has signalled its intent to take enforcement action against comparator websites that mislead consumers by failing to operate in a transparent manner. In August 2014, Compare the Market Pty Ltd paid a $10,200 penalty in relation to its health insurance comparison services, while in 2011, EnergyWatch was fined over $2 million for misleading advertising in relation to consumer savings. In early 2015, the ACCC will release best practice guidelines for comparator websites to help them comply with Australian competition and consumer protection laws. The ACCC will also be providing consumer guidance in relation to the comparator website industry.