At present, almost all countries have e-commerce laws firmly in place to protect both online buyers and e-commerce companies.
Some countries have integrated e-commerce-related laws into their consumer laws, while other countries have specific laws focused on online business. However, the primary goal of these laws is the same: protect the rights of both customers and businesses.
In this piece, we will try to simplify some of the e-commerce laws and regulations in Australia that e-commerce companies—and consumers—should know.
A quick note: The entirety of the law may be too technical or may contain legalese, but we will try to simplify and laymanize some of these laws’ features. When we speak of e-commerce laws and guidelines, there might also be some overlaps, so we will try to choose or highlight some that are more focused on e-commerce.
Also, because Australia is a huge country, some of the laws might be a mix of both state and federal legislation or dependent on where your e-commerce business is located.
Foundation of Australia’s e-commerce laws
As of the moment, Australia’s thriving e-commerce sector follows four laws, including Australia’s Electronic Transactions Act 1999, the Australian Consumer Law or ACL, Spam Act, and Privacy Act.
As mentioned, some of these laws have overlapping, and some are actually subsets, or under a more general law. A case in point here is the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) which encompasses general consumer-focused laws that are also followed or implemented under the country’s Electronic Transactions Act 1999, among others.
As an e-commerce company in Australia, having someone with a legal background will always be helpful, as some of these laws overlap and could be complex.
Electronic Transactions Act 1999
Australia established its Electronic Transactions Act primarily to ensure that transactions via electronic communication will be valid. These transactions can be both business or personal.
The main highlight of this law is that paperless transactions are now allowed. You can send electronic or digital versions of information in writing, a handwritten signature, a document, and/or a record of some form.
This act is now considered the foundation of e-commerce in Australia.
Most of the other features of this law are also under the Australian Consumer Law, which in essence, means consumer rights are covered whether you’re transacting with e-commerce companies or physical stores. Now just e-commerce companies based in Australia, but foreign e-commerce companies must also follow these consumer-focused laws.
Australian Consumer Law (ACL)
The ACL covers a wide range of regulations pertaining to consumers of both e-commerce and physical stores in the country. Businesses, whether local or foreign, must comply with the ACL regulations.
Some of the features of the ACL will include consumer guarantees, which are said to be “automatic” when a consumer buys a product or avails of a certain service. This applies to both online and brick-and-mortar companies. This guarantee also means consumers are entitled to a refund or replacement if the product bought is found to be defective.
Recently, the Australian government implemented changes in the ACL which now require businesses to provide consumer guarantees for products and services for under $100,000. Previously, the threshold was set at $40,000. The guarantee also applies to products and services over $100,000 that are normally bought for personal or household use.
The ACL also prohibits false or misleading claims. Companies are compelled to deliver products that have already been paid for or face consequences. Coercion or harassment is also prohibited. Unwanted phone calls and other sales methods deemed unnecessary are also prohibited.
The ACL has such a wide spectrum of consumer laws that covers practically everything related to customer protection against illegal business practices.
Australia’s Spam Act 2003 was created to specifically combat the proliferation of unsolicited commercial electronic messages. These messages might be in the form of ‘text’ (SMS), MMS, instant messages, and e-mails.
Like most countries, Australia also has to grapple with the proliferation of spam as more and more people jump into e-commerce. There are a few features of the law that is worth noting.
One of which is consent, which means that commercial electronic messages “must only be sent with the addressee’s consent.
The Australian government says “consent may be expressly given by the recipient, or under certain restricted circumstances it may be inferred from the conduct or business relationships of the recipient; and that the message must include information to identify the sender; the message must contain accurate information about the person or organization that authorized the sending of the message.
Consumers should also have an “opt-out” or “unsubscribe” feature.
Perhaps one the most important facet of Australia’s Privacy Act is that as a business (physical or e-commerce), you are legally responsible for the protection of customers’ personal information.
The reasons for protecting your customers’ info are varied. As an e-commerce company, you are compelled to protect sensitive information from theft, misuse, interference, loss, unauthorized access, modification, and disclosure, among others.
Cybercrimes, such as scams, identity theft, etc. can be pretty scary, thus, companies should have information protection policies to combat these threats. In Australia, should a company no longer need customer information, the information must be properly handled, destroyed, and “de-identify.”
The Australian government takes privacy issues quite seriously, not just for online businesses, but also for brick-and-mortar companies.
Australia’s Privacy Act says that if your business has an annual turnover of more than $3 million, then the Privacy Act applies to you. If your e-commerce business is handling personal information—including residential addresses, phone numbers, bank account details, etc.), then you need to comply with the Privacy Act.