China moves to protect rights of buyers in online transactions

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 March, 2014, 5:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 11:39pm

The mainland moved to offer better protection for online shoppers and drew attention to the problem of text message spam sent using illegal equipment, as the world marked Consumer Rights Day.

The nation is launching a campaign to eradicate junk text messages to protect consumer rights, a state news agency reported yesterday.

To mark the nation's Consumer Rights Day, a new law stipulating a seven-day refund period for online shopping came into effect yesterday.

Under that law, people will have a seven-day period to get a no-questions-asked refund on a wide array of items bought over the internet. Online businesses have also been prohibited from disclosing customer details in marketing efforts.

The problem of illegal text message spam was highlighted in an exposé by state television broadcaster CCTV.

Working out of minivans, criminals used custom-made phones and a special device connected to a laptop computer that blocked regional mobile phone services. The criminals could then send out as many as 40,000 texts per minute to phones in the area, Economics 30 Minutes reported on Friday.

About 200 billion junk text messages were sent in the first half of last year, with residents in major cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou receiving an average of two such messages a day, it said.

These junk texts often contained false claims, which might affect social stability, the programme said, noting that offenders faced between three to seven years in jail.

The new online trading management law replaces a temporary one, China News Service reported.

According to the China Consumers' Association, there were 20,454 complaints relating to online shopping last year, representing about 52 per cent of all complaints about sales and services.

The new law also detailed guidelines for handling unfair competition and consumer rights protection, as well as requiring online merchants to provide identification when registering their businesses.

Consumers now have a week for a no-questions-asked refund on online purchases, other than custom-made items, fresh goods, unwrapped music, digital video products, newspapers and periodicals.

The law also prohibits merchants from disclosing buyers' personal information for marketing purposes.

The law covers online merchants, customers and shopping platforms, meaning claiming false sales to boost the reputation of online shops or customers leaving negative comments for the purpose of smearing a merchant's reputation can be fined up to 30,000 yuan (HK$38,000).

Individual sellers are opening stores on popular shopping websites like Taobao, but fake goods and misrepresentation are becoming a problem.

CCTV criticised Nikon for selling a deficient camera model and refusing to give refunds or exchanges. It interviewed a US lawyer who is currently representing about 1,000 customers bringing a class action against Nikon.