Amid COVID-19 threats, online business competence and ethics under the spotlight
David Lee

Editor's note: David Lee is a Beijing-based consultant and author mainly writing about energy, health, international politics and international development. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

World Consumer Rights Day 2020 comes under extraordinary circumstances as the COVID-19 pandemic is fundamentally affecting traditional retail business across the world.

Amid COVID-19 threats, in many parts of the world particularly where quarantine and lockdown measures are being taken, online business is quickly replacing brick-and-mortar retail business to sustain daily livelihood of the populations.

If the rise of online business represents the megatrend of the 21st century, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis is significantly accelerating the process where online purchase becomes an indispensable part of the daily life of the consumer.

Understandably, the consumer has high expectations on the competence and ethics of online business.

Competence entails key technologies such as 5G, IoT, and digital transformation to ensure overall smooth operations of warehousing, logistics, transportation, and delivery. During a quarantine when normal movement of the people is strictly restricted, as is the case during the COVID-19 outbreak in several parts of the world, online business must use the best technologies possible to overcome challenges.

Notably, the current challenging situation may well stimulate the growth of such interesting innovations as drone delivery, which apparently offers a much safer "contactless" delivery alternative, particularly when the consumer on the receiving end is under health quarantine, poses a potential risk to the delivery service provider, or wants to protect himself or herself from exposure to the delivery service provider.

Ethics is all the more important as the consumer is becoming increasingly reliant on online business. A top priority for ethics when it comes to providing online services is to ensure the consumer's privacy.



The evolving regulatory landscape is still working hard to catch up with the increasingly sophisticated and fast changing technologies. Such reality means online business must practice the highest moral standards to prevent abuse of user data, which in turn leads to privacy breach and other forms of consumer rights infringement.

Unfortunately, such high moral standards remains a rarity in the online business world nowadays, and existing and generally accepted user terms and conditions often provide wide enough leeway to the business actor at the expense of the consumer.

Another big ethics concern relates to the protection of young consumers. During the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in China, mobile gaming apps are raking in big money, as schools remain closed and young players get to spend big chunks of time staring into the small screens.

Staying at home, a lot of kids are drawn to mobile games that are cleverly designed to be addictive and encourage in-game spending. It's not unusual a kid uses the mobile phone of his or her parent to play the game, and often ends using the parent's payment account to buy gaming credits.

Oftentimes, the mobile gaming platforms don't set up a strict enough verification process to prevent minors from making unscrupulous payments. In many cases, parents have complained about their kids making big payments without their knowledge and they are at a loss when trying to request the gaming platform to return the money.

Having arrived amid a global public health crisis where online business is playing a significantly more important role in supporting consumers' daily livelihoods, World Consumer Rights Day 2020 highlights the need for enhancing business competence and placing even more scrutiny on ethical business behavior.

Combined, competence and ethics represent the overall performance of online business. Hopefully, government, civil society, media, and business will continue to work together to improve the overall online business environment to provide the services that modern consumers expect and deserve.

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