The Albanese Government must urgently pass new laws to combat scams on online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram including message services such as Whatsapp and Messenger.
Today in Estimates, in response to concerns I raised about this major gap in the law, ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said critical action was required.
As highlighted in this Scams Awareness Week, the ACCC’s Scamwatch reports that, in 2021, Australians suffered a combined loss of over $2 billion as a result of scams which could reach $4 billion.
A frightening number of these scams, such as the recent ‘Hey Mum’ Whatsapp scam, are being facilitated by the global tech giants. Yet Labor’s hapless Minister for Communications has been missing in action on the need to impose tough new laws on the online platforms.
This represents a fundamental failure of the Albanese Government to protect vulnerable Australians, demonstrating it has its priorities all wrong.
The former Coalition government, in December 2020, announced a new industry code – the Reducing Scam Calls Code – which requires telecommunications companies to detect, trace and block scam calls. In November 2021, the Coalition made an important regulatory amendment empowering the telecommunication sector to identify and block SMS scams at source. As a result of this work, new rules to identify, trace and block SMS scams came into force in July 2022.
Administered by the Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA), these laws have blocked an estimated 800 million scam calls and 48 million SMS scams. (See https://www.acma.gov.au/articles/2022-11/acma-reveals-top-5-reported-phone-scams)
The government must urgently give ACMA the power to force the global tech giants to detect, trace and block scams, ensuring companies like Meta, Twitter and Google are more accountable for the harm they are facilitating.
While there is no silver bullet to stop scams altogether, the Albanese Government must do everything in its power to block these scams and provide Australians with the protection they deserve.
Transcript of evidence to Senate Economics Legislation Committee, 2022-23 Budget Estimates, 10 November 2022
Senator Henderson: The government has not taken any action to give ACMA greater powers in relation to scams on big tech platforms such as on Facebook’s WhatsApp or on Messenger, so there is a lot more work to be done. Do you hold concerns about these major regulatory gaps?
Ms Cass-Gottlieb: We do. We have taken action against Meta earlier in the year in relation to facilitation and allegation of facilitation of cyber crypto currency scams. And so that is one action that we have taken but we are advocating and seeking to call upon the platforms to take proactive action to move more quickly and to recognise and disrupt and prevent scams being promulgated on their platforms in the way the telecommunications companies are obliged to under their code and they have had much success in.
Senator Henderson: That’s right and that was all of course regulations which were imposed by the former Coalition Government but yet there was a regulatory gap in regulations concerning the big tech platforms the over-the-top message services for instance. How important do you believe it is to take urgent action on that regulatory gap in the law?
Ms Cass-Gottlieb: We think it’s critical to do so.