The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has continued its rampage on the online marketplace industry in ACCC v Sony Interactive Entertainment Network Europe Ltd [2020] FCA 787, as it continues to vigilantly protect Australian consumers that purchase items online.

In this case, the Federal Court ordered Sony Interactive Entertainment Network Europe Ltd (Sony) to pay $3.5 million in penalties for false and misleading representations to consumers in breach of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

Sony operates the PlayStation Network (PSN) and PlayStation store across a number of jurisdictions globally, including Australia. The PSN is a subscription-based service that provides online access to PlayStation users; and the PlayStation store is an online store which allows users to digitally purchase and then download videogames.

Sony admitted to engaging in the following conduct between September 2017 and May 2019 which contravened the ACL:

  • the terms of service for access to the PSN implied that users did not have certain consumer guarantees as to quality, functionality, completeness, accuracy or performance of digital games;
  • emails made to consumers at the time of purchase stated that PSN users could not obtain a refund of money added to their virtual wallet on the PSN; and
  • representing (orally, via call-centre agents) to consumers that they were not required to provide refunds for faulty game purchases.

In addition to the pecuniary penalty, Sony was ordered to pay $100,000 towards the ACCC's costs and publish an Australian consumer rights notice on their website.

The case is a reminder that regardless of the location of a company's headquarters, where products are being sold on the Australian market to Australian consumers, the ACL applies.

Additionally, the case highlights that companies should ensure workers in complaints divisions or call centres have comprehensive compliance training and legally approved scripts so that any verbal statements they make comply with the ACL. This is particularly pertinent while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, as it is likely that interactions with companies online and via telephone will only to increase.

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