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Australia’s regulator accuses Airbnb of misleading customers on price

Australia’s antitrust regulator has filed a lawsuit against Airbnb Inc, accusing the accommodation-sharing website of misleading users into paying more than advertised for their stays, widening its scrutiny of global technology platforms.
From 2018 to 2021, the San Francisco-based internet giant advertised and charged room rates in United States dollars without indicating the much higher figures in Australian dollars, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said in a court filing that it made public on Wednesday.

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Airbnb refused to refund users who complained about being misled, saying they had chosen to view rates in US dollars even though users said they had not, the ACCC said in the filing.

Airbnb also refused to refund currency conversion fees, claiming they were banks’ responsibility, the regulator added.
“While a fraction of a percentage of guests are believed to have been impacted … we will compensate affected guests,” Susan Wheeldon, Airbnb’s country manager for Australia and New Zealand said in statement to Reuters.
Airbnb declined to offer further details about compensation.
Wheeldon said Airbnb has since updated its platform so relevant currencies are “clearly displayed” from the first page for Australian guests.
The lawsuit puts Airbnb in the company of several high-profile targets of a regulator bent on reining in the power of big technology firms. Last year, its actions led to Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google paying media outlets content licensing fees.
It is currently conducting a review of Amazon.com Inc and other online retailers that may recommend changes to the sector.
In the Airbnb lawsuit, the ACCC said users “were deprived of the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether and at what price to book accommodation.”
They “suffered further harm in the form of price difference costs and, in at least some cases, transaction fee costs,” the regulator said, without giving dollar amounts.
Airbnb stood to benefit unfairly over competitors because the “false and misleadingly low prices conveyed … made the accommodation available on the platform appear to be more attractive,” the ACCC said.
The ACCC said it is seeking an unspecified fine and court orders for Airbnb to compensate affected customers. In a statement, it said thousands of people had complained to Airbnb about the difference in advertised prices and amounts charged.
The Australian dollar bought an average of 72 US cents during the time covered by the lawsuit, meaning a customer renting accommodation advertised at $500 would actually pay around A$700 plus foreign exchange fees, the regulator said.

Read more: Airbnb ends rentals in China to focus on outbound tourists

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Lindsay Lohan celebrates birthday as married woman to Dubai resident Bader Shammas

Actress Lindsay Lohan is celebrating her 36th birthday on Saturday as a married woman.

The “Freaky Friday” star said she was the “luckiest woman in the world” in an Instagram post Friday that pictured her with financier Bader Shammas, who had been her fiance.

“I am stunned that you are my husband,” Lohan said in the post, adding that “every woman should feel like this everyday.”

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The couple had announced their engagement last November. People magazine and Entertainment Tonight confirmed there had been a wedding, but no details were offered.

While still single a few years ago, Lohan told Entertainment Tonight that she was looking for “a smart businessman” and someone who doesn’t like the spotlight. Shammas’ Instagram account is private.

The “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” actress and sometimes singer has worked through some sobriety issues in recent years, and has recently filmed a romantic comedy that is due to be released on Netflix later this year.

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Dutch university gets cyber ransom money back with interest

A Dutch university that fell victim to a massive ransomware attack has partly received back its stolen money, which in the meantime more than doubled in value, a news report said on Saturday.

The southern Maastricht University in 2019 was hit by a large cyberattack in which criminals used ransomware, a type of malicious software that locks valuable data and can only be accessed once the victim pays a ransom amount.

“The criminals had encrypted hundreds of Windows servers and backup systems, preventing 25,000 students and employees from accessing scientific data, library and mail,” the daily De Volkskrant said.

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The hackers demanded 200,000 euros ($208,000) in bitcoins.

“After a week the university decide to accede to the criminal gang’s demand,” the paper said.

“This was partly because personal data was in danger of being lost and students were unable to take an exam or work on their theses,” it said.

Dutch police traced part of the ransom paid to an account belonging to a money launderer in Ukraine.

Prosecutors in 2020 seized this man’s account, which contained a number of different crypto currencies including part of the ransom money paid by Maastricht.

“When, now after more than two years, it was finally possible to get that money to the Netherlands, the value had increased from 40,000 euros to half-a-million euros,” the paper said.

Maastricht University will now get the 500,000 euros ($521,000) back.

“This money will not go to a general fund, but into a fund to help financially strapped students,” Maastricht University ICT director Michiel Borgers said.

The investigation into the hackers responsible for the attack on the university is still ongoing, De Volkskrant added.

Read more:

Cyberattack hits Norway, pro-Russian hacker group fingered

Explainer: EU agrees rulebook for ‘Wild West’ crypto markets

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Singer R. Kelly sues Brooklyn jail for putting him on suicide watch

R. Kelly on Friday sued the Brooklyn jail that has housed him since his racketeering and sex crimes conviction, saying it wrongly put him on suicide watch after he received a 30-year prison sentence despite knowing he was not suicidal.

In a complaint filed in Brooklyn federal court, the 55-year-old multiplatinum R&B singer said officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center ordered the watch after his June 29 sentencing “solely for punitive purposes” and because he was a “high-profile” inmate.

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Kelly’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean quoted a prosecutor as saying the jail’s legal counsel had told her that “per the psychology department, is on a psych alert for various reasons, such as age, crime, publicity and sentencing.” No timetable was provided.

Bonjean wasn’t satisfied with the explanation. “Simply put, MDC Brooklyn is run like a gulag,” she wrote.

Kelly said the “harsh conditions” he faced led to “severe mental distress,” and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment that violated the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

He is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, though the docket suggests Kelly is seeking $100 million.

The jail did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Known for the 1996 Grammy-winning hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” Kelly was convicted last September on one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which bars transporting people across state lines for prostitution.

Prosecutors said Kelly exploited his stardom and wealth over two decades to lure women and underage girls into his orbit for sex, with the help of his entourage.

Kelly said he was also put on suicide watch after his conviction.

Ghislaine Maxwell, another inmate at the Brooklyn jail, was placed on suicide watch on June 24, four days before being sentenced to 20 years in prison for aiding financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of underage girls.

Maxwell’s lawyer said the British socialite had been given a “suicide smock” and deprived of clothing, toothpaste and soap though she too was not suicidal.

Friday’s filings did not say what specific conditions Kelly faced.

Kelly still faces an August trial in Chicago federal court on child pornography and obstruction charges, and various state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

Read more:

R&B singer R. Kelly handed 30-year prison sentence for sex crimes

UK prosecutors charge actor Kevin Spacey with sex crimes

Ghislaine Maxwell handed 20-year prison sentence for sex trafficking

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