According to its recent annual report on intellectual property rights protection, Alibaba has improved the processes for the takedown of infringing material and addressing counterfeit goods listed on the site.
The three main messages from the report are:
- 95% of takedown requests were processed within 24 hours, a 68% reduction in processing time compared to 2016.
- The number of takedown requests has reduced by 42% even though the number of listings has increased by 17%.
- Artificial intelligence has been deployed to detect and remove unlawful listings before they appear on the platform. According to Alibaba, 97% of all proactive takedowns occurred before a single sale occurred.
While the use of advanced technology to help identify fake listings will be of interest to many, the really interesting aspect is the way in which Alibaba, and other platforms, are going out of their way to publicise their commitment to good governance and emphasise the extent to which they are working with their community. A major concern that the platforms may have is the extent to which the regulators around the world are taking interest in the way in which platforms influence or control the behaviour of the wider population.
As they build their own legal ecosystems to regulate content on their platforms the more protective of those ecosystems the platforms will become.
The European Commission is very interested in this area. Its Communication on Online Platforms identified areas where more work is needed by all stakeholders. The guiding policy principles pursued by the Commission are:
- A level playing field for comparable digital services;
- Ensuring that online platforms behave responsibly to protect core values;
- Fostering trust, transparency and ensuring fairness;
- Keeping markets open and non-discriminatory to foster a data-driven economy.
On 1 March 2018 the European Commission issued a recommendation on measures to effectively tackle illegal content online. As part of that recommendation, the Commission states:
“In order to avoid removal of content which is not illegal content, without prejudice to the possibility for hosting service providers to set and enforce their terms of service in accordance with Union law and the laws of the Member States, there should be effective and appropriate safeguards to ensure that hosting service providers act in a diligent and proportionate manner in respect of content that they store, in particular when processing notices and counter-notices and when deciding on the possible removal of or disabling of access to content considered to be illegal content.”
The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications is also exploring how the regulation of the internet should be improved, and whether specific regulation is required or whether the existing law is adequate. The will also look at whether the online platforms have sufficient accountability and transparency, and whether they use fair and effective processes to moderate content.
What this highlights is the growing tension between fast moving ecommerce and social platforms, who wish to regulate their own communities, and the regulators, who wish to impose common standards on those platforms. At this stage it would appear that the platforms, like Alibaba, are trying to keep half a step ahead of the regulators with their own dispute resolution ecosystems.