Big tech should better support small business: ombudsman

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Big tech should better support small business: ombudsman
Bruce Billson.

Dispute, review mechanisms vital.

Big tech’s run-ins with Australian small business have become more frequent and serious, requiring channels for dispute resolution and a specialist court, a watchdog has warned.

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) Bruce Billson sounded the warning in a submission to the government’s digital platform services inquiry.

The submission [pdf], dated last Friday, states that small business dependence on digital platforms has made them vulnerable, “due in no small part to the lack of an effective dispute resolution process with many [platform operators]."

Examples Billson gave of how small businesses are at the mercy of platforms include account blocking or hacking; the lack of appeal processes; fraudulent misrepresentation (in particular where a bad actor mimics the small business); and fake review campaigns.

“The common element across all categories of dispute type is a lack of ability to effectively
communicate with digital platforms to engage in an appropriate dispute resolution process,” the submission states.

Complaints are generally funnelled through automated communication processes with no access to human intervention, and once a decision has been made, it’s hard to change.

“Digital platforms often lack useful appeal processes, and where a platform makes a decision, there is also a lack of internal review options available”, the submission notes.

The ASBFEO notes from its own case studies that platforms like Meta typically have a seven-day response time, which the submission says can be “incredibly damaging to those relying
on Facebook or Instagram for the entirety of their trade.”

More in-country support needs to be made available, giving the small business an avenue to launch appeals, and request action against scammers and fake review campaigns, the ombudsman said.

Specific recommendations from the ombudsman include:

  • Minimum dispute resolution standards;
  • Enforceable guidelines for review platforms, including an amendment to the Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill 2022 to impose timeliness requirements on digital platforms’ responses; and
  • A small business disputes Federal Circuit Court list.
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