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Consumers Misled On Y2K Compliance

PC Resq to Offer Refunds to Consumers Misled On Y2K Compliance

Release From Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

Consumers who bought 'Bugbuster' from Melbourne company PC Resq may be eligible for a refund due to the potentially misleading nature of PC Resq's conduct in promoting the product.

After Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiries, PC Resq has agreed to cease making unqualified representations to consumers that imply that consumers need a higher level of Y2K compliance than what is actually necessary to suit their requirements; to print corrective advertising; to offer refunds; and implement a compliance program.

The 'Bugbuster' is a correction card designed to make the Real Time Clock (RTC) in a personal computer Y2K compliant. PC Resq's advertising, its web site and its dealings with clients implied that brand new computers might not comply with year 2000 standards. It also suggested that a compliant RTC was necessary to meet the recommendations of Standards Australia.

In fact, Standards Australia's handbook Year 2000 compliance measures for personal computers provides that when people use their computers for non-critical home and office duties and their computers can be rebooted at the change of the century, it is unlikely that a compliant RTC is necessary.

The Standards Australia handbook sets out three levels of compliance for computers. It is only the highest level that requires a compliant RTC. This is when the computer is used for critical 24 hour operations (ie the computer cannot be rebooted upon Century rollover), the software programs access the RTC directly to obtain the date and where non-compliance may cause significant risk of loss or personal injury.

"Y2K compliance of personal computers is an technical and complex area where consumers rely strongly on the advice of experts," ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels, said today. "They are particularly vulnerable to being misled in relation to the appropriate level of compliance.

"What is appropriate will depend on the nature of the usage that the consumer intends for the computer."
In agreeing to a court-enforceable undertaking, the ACCC has made public its general principles in relation to consumer protection and Y2K compliance of personal computers. These are below.

"The computer industry should take care when giving advice to ensure that consumers aren't recommended Y2K fixes that they don't need. It should also make sure that it fully discloses the facts so that consumers can make up their own minds about what level of compliance is appropriate for them. The ACCC suggests that consumers should make clear the purpose for which they are using their computer so that those who are advising them can give appropriate advice".

23 July 99
General principles in relation to Y2K compliance of personal computers

The correct operation of a computer system, whether in a Y2K context or not, depends on the correct operation of a number of individual layers, including the Real Time Clock, the BIOS, the operating system, applications and data, and these layers work together. While the basis of a Y2K problem can exist within all layers, the least complex problems occur within the hardware (RTC and BIOS) and the most complex within applications and data areas;

According to the Standards Australia Handbook Year 2000 Compliance Measures for Personal Computers, consumers who are using computers for non-critical home and office duties or for normal office purposes and which can be rebooted at the change of the century are unlikely to require a Y2K compliant Real Time Clock (RTC);
Therefore, general representations made to the public or specific representations made to individuals that place undue emphasis on the RTC as the determining factor of Y2K compliance or imply that consumers need a higher level of compliance than that outlined in Levels 1 and 2 of the Standards Australia Handbook, may be misleading or deceptive and could be acting in contravention of section 52 or section 53(f) of the Trade Practices Act 1974;

In circumstances where:

· computers and/or computer systems are used for 24 hour operations (ie the computer cannot be rebooted at the turn of the century);
·
· where the software programs access the RTC directly to obtain the date; and
·
where non-compliance may cause significant risk of loss or personal injury. Year 2000 compliance measures for personal computers. It is noted that the conduct which is the subject of this undertaking occurred when an older version of the Handbook was in operation. This version described Level 3 compliance as being required 'where the computer is used for critical 24 hour operations and where non-compliance may cause significant risk of loss or personal injury'. (which circumstances are sometimes referred to as "mission critical")
the computers and computer systems should be thoroughly checked and tested for Y2K exposure including the contribution of the RTC.

However, accessing the RTC directly to obtain the date is not a standard practice in application software and some operating systems actually prevent the RTC being accessed directly by the software programs. As such, a non-compliant RTC will not automatically lead to a malfunctioning in a "mission critical" system;

People who are intending to purchase a computer and/or a computer system for use in circumstances where they require a compliant RTC should make this clear to the supplier;

If the specific purpose for which a computer and/or computer system is going to be used is made clear by a consumer to a supplier, the item supplied should be 'reasonably fit for that purpose'. In the event that the item supplied is not fit for its purpose, the consumer may be entitled to a refund under section 71 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.

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