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Sunday, 23 August 2009 15:14

Consent flaws blight comms sector, call for regulators to act

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Inconsistent and unsatisfactory consent requirements are prevalent in telecommunications laws and industry codes of conduct, despite consent being an essential part of contract formation, subscription services and the use of customer information in Australia’s communications industry.

A new industry watchdog - the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) – says its recent research highlights the fact that there are flaws in obtaining consent in the Australian communications industry, despite the fact that the “collection of informed consent from consumers is a key requirement in the communications sector.”

According to the CEO of ACCAN, Allan Asher, the research has found that that “inconsistent and unsatisfactory consent requirements are scattered throughout a mix of telecommunication laws and industry codes of conduct,” and, he claims, in many key cases consent requirements are absent entirely.

“The collection of informed consent from consumers is a key requirement in the communications sector. Consent is essential for contract formation, subscription services and the use of customer information.

Asher claimed that ACCAN’s research found that regulators, complaints schemes and community organisations are receiving “over 40,000 consent complaints each year regarding communications companies,” which he said was “unsustainable and urgent action is required to improve industry practice and protect consumers.

“When we looked at examples of industry practice, we were shocked to see that information provided to consumers regarding communications products – such as mobile phone and Internet subscriptions – ranged from zero information right through to 57 pages of detailed legal jargon.”

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As a result of the research, Asher said ACCAN was calling for legislation and codes of conduct to set out consistent requirements for consent across the entire industry.

Asher said the research project was conducted for ACCAN by independent consultancy Galexia, and the lead author of the report, Chris Connolly, said the research found that the “few consent requirements that exist in laws and codes are inconsistent and do not include coverage of key issues such as the capacity of the individual to provide consent (such as young people or people with an intellectual disability).”

“Another concern is that there is no requirement to record consent in the communications sector, and this has led to a lot of problems for consumers involved in disputes. Caseworkers interviewed in this project reported numerous cases where the consumer denies all knowledge of a service that appears on their bill.”

Connolly also said the research should contribute to an improved approach to informed consent in the communications sector, and Asher said that ACCAN would now press for the development of specialist guidance on “obtaining consent from these vulnerable groups.”

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