China's first e-commerce law offers consumers more protection
By Zhang Huimin
To better regulate the flourishing online shopping market, China's first e-commerce law takes effect on Tuesday with the aim of better protecting consumers' interests, especially privacy.
Online retail sales of goods and services in China during 2017 added up to 7,175 billion yuan (about 1,043 billion U.S. dollars), accounting for 19.6 percent of total retail sales, according to data from the China E-Commerce Research Center.
With the prosperous e-commerce market and growing application of AI technology, there are growing concerns in China about consumers' privacy protection.
According to the e-commerce law, online platforms are prevented from turning search results into recommendations made only based on their personal information, including previous purchase records.
And operators should deal with personal data in a timely manner if a user requests to see, correct or delete their data.
“It is similar to ‘the right to be forgotten' from General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the EU,” Wang Jian, director of the Cross-Border E-commerce Research Center of University of International Business and Economics, said.
The right to be forgotten can be found in the GDPR, which regulates personal data must be erased immediately in cases where the data is no longer needed for its original processing purposes, or the data subject has withdrawn the consent.
“As a response to social concern, China's e-commerce law, which reasonably balances the precision marketing in the era of big data and the protection of consumers' personal information, makes it clear how to collect, use and protect consumers' data and helps promoting user experiences on safety,” Feng Xiaopeng, a partner of King & Wood Mallesons, specialized in cross-border e-commerce and customs compliance, told CGTN.
E-commerce operators are defined in the new law as platform operators, such as Alibaba's Taobao.com, merchants on platforms, and those operating on their own websites or via other web services, like the messaging app WeChat.
The e-commerce law complements previous regulations such as the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests as well as the Food Safety Law, by clearly defining the players of the e-commerce industry, according to Wang, noting that if online platforms fail to protect the safety of consumers, the new e-commerce law will hold them be responsible.
Although there is no separate law specializing in the protection of personal information in China, guidance has been offered by Cyber Security Law and “Information security technology – Personal information security specification,” Feng commented.
"We are looking forward to a separate law for the protection of personal information since the 'personal information security specification' now is lack of legal compulsion," he added.