The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has taken action against Business Pages for misleading businesses over the cost of a standard listing in its online directory.
Melbourne-based Business Pages widely circulated an application form to Australian businesses in October last year, inviting them to take out a listing in its online business directory.
The form provided a number of 'tick the box' listing options in addition to the standard listing. Each additional option had a price next to it, ranging from $49 to $199, but there was no price beside the standard listing.
The only mention of the standard listing, which cost $1449 a year for a minimum of two years, was embedded in fine print at the bottom of the application.
ACCC's chairman, Graeme Samuel said in a media statement that all consumers, individuals or businesses, need to be informed in a clear and transparent manner about the cost of services and goods being offered.
"It is unacceptable for costs to be concealed in fine print, obscured or not be readily apparent. Knowing the cost of doing business is a fundamental consumer right," he said.
Finding the form to be in breach of the Trade Practices Act, the commission, has ordered Business Pages to cease using the misleading application form and send a letter to all businesses that signed up any time from October last year.
The letter needs to clearly point out all the costs and to ask businesses to return a signed consent, stating that they were not misled and that they wish to remain on the directory.
If businesses do not return a signed consent they will be removed from the directory and receive a refund.
Samuel said the ACCC receives a number of complaints involving misleading advertising, but that those related to e-business are more insidious than hard-copy advertising.
"Because of the ubiquitous nature of e-business, material reaches out to a far greater number of people so the propensity to be misled is greatly increased," he said.
The ACCC was unable to immediately provide exact numbers of the businesses that have been or may have been misled.
Business Pages was unable to be contacted for a response.