Volunteers instruct residents on how to protect their consumer rights at a village in Rugao, Jiangsu province, on Wednesday, World Consumer Rights Day. (XU HUI / FOR CHINA DAILY)
Consumers have been given stronger protection in cyberspace, thanks to judicial efforts made by courts over the past five years.
"With the fast development of the digital economy in China, online consumption has become more popular with the public, and it has also brought more disputes in this regard," He Xiaorong, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court, the country's top court, said at a news conference on Wednesday, World Consumer Rights Day.
Courts nationwide concluded 99,000 cases over the past five years involving online purchasing contracts, he said, adding that the number of such disputes increased to 32,000 last year from 12,000 in 2018.
During that period, courts across the country also concluded 23,000 cases concerning online service contracts, with a large number of disputes relating to the quality of products as well as rental and tourism contracts.
The top court has attached great importance to handling online consumption cases, "as providing stronger protection for consumers is not only crucial to expand domestic demand, but also to build new patterns of development and advance high-quality growth", he said.
With the emergence of new businesses in cyberspace, such as live-streaming and order deliveries, the top court issued a guideline in March 2022 to respond to public concerns and further safeguard the rights of online consumers by calling for judges to strengthen hearings in this field, he added.
Gao Yanzhu, a judge from the top court's No 1 Civil Division, said that compared with face-to-face consumption, where there is a clear and simple business relationship, online consumption is more complicated. Online consumption involves more entities, "including e-commerce platforms, online payment service providers and logistic companies, which brings challenges in relevant case hearings", Gao said.
Highlighting the significance of figuring out the liability subject in disputes, she called on judges to learn more about the operating procedures of the new businesses, such as livestreaming and ride-hailing services. This will help the judges guide the industries on developing in a healthy way and leave them space to innovate while regulating their operations, she said.
Zhang Jun, a judge at the Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court, said that e-commerce platform operators, as a major part of online consumption, should take more responsibility.
He suggested that online service providers strengthen their reviews of sellers' registration and regularly update their information. Citing the E-Commerce Law, he pointed out that if an e-commerce platform fails to fulfill its obligation of reviewing the qualifications of online sellers, especially those selling healthcare-related products that harm consumers, it will be held liable.
Zhang said that in recent years, he and his colleagues have stepped up efforts to explore new ways to deal with online consumption disputes, in order to protect the legitimate rights of consumers and promote the development of new businesses.
The Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court said that since 2013, it has handled 2,271 cases involving the protection of consumer rights. The number of such disputes went up from 75 in 2013 to 398 in 2018.
A report released by the Beijing No 4 Intermediate People's Court on Tuesday also said it handled 790 cases regarding online consumption from 2020 to 2022. More than 82 percent of the cases were initiated by consumers who made claims of false advertising or said products violated the Food Safety Law.