Internet regulations conform to global trend
The internet has completely changed our way of life, and tech companies have become the leading driver of social evolution.
Yet in recent years, the growing power of big tech companies, including some internet platforms, in China has led to the formation of monopolies in some areas of e-commerce, instant messaging and ride-hailing services.
Such companies have revealed their monopolistic tendencies by introducing algorithmic collusion, big data-enabled price discrimination and predatory pricing, which have disturbed the market order and violated consumers' rights and interests.
China has made great progress in promoting the rule of law, including enacting anti-monopoly regulations for cyberspace. For example, the State Administration for Market Regulation released the draft amendment to the Anti-Monopoly Law in 2020 to solicit public opinions, and issued a draft document on tackling unfair competition in the online sector on Aug 17. And the Anti-Monopoly Committee of the State Council issued anti-monopoly guidelines for online platforms on Feb 7.
These moves to check monopolies are aimed at restoring order in the market, and hence have garnered public support.
To be sure, China's anti-monopoly policies are aimed at fostering innovation and boosting high-quality economic development.
China's anti-monopoly law enforcement authorities had adopted a somewhat prudent supervision policy for online businesses, which some big companies took advantage of to grab a bigger share of the market by curbing competition. Some companies even used illegal means to restrict other companies from selling their products and services online, which curbed fair competition.
China has been transitioning from quantitative, investments-and exports-driven economic growth to high-quality development, for which it is very important to strengthen anti-monopoly law enforcement. And stricter market supervision is necessary to better regulate and develop the internet industry, promote fair competition and boost high-quality development.
Stricter supervision will also prevent big tech companies from making short-term gains through unfair means－albeit they can still leverage their advantages in innovation－and provide small and medium-sized enterprises with more development space so the online market can become more open, energetic and prosperous.
The monopolies and virtual monopolies in the online market have harmed the interests of customers. In some cases, consumers have had to pay higher prices for lower quality products and services, and tech firms have leaked the personal data of consumers, and restricted other companies from selling products on certain platforms.
The anti-monopoly law enforcement authorities have investigated tech companies in accordance with the law and treated all market entities equally, in order to establish a sound market order, promote fair competition, and foster innovation. The authorities have also adopted multiple measures to guide tech companies, in a bid to minimize government interference in the market.
Moreover, China's anti-monopoly policies conform to the global trend, as the European Union and the United States have been tightening supervision of the internet industry in recent years.
The EU unveiled the Digital Service Act and Digital Market Act in 2020 to break monopolies and eradicate unfair competition. The US House of Representatives issued five antitrust reform bills on June 11, and President Joe Biden signed the Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy on July 9. And tech giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon have been heavily fined and are facing investigations for flouting competition and data protection laws of the EU and the US.
Countries such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Turkey and Australia all have strengthened anti-monopoly supervision of the internet industry, in a bid to ensure the healthy development of the sector, which can help boost global economic recovery.
As for China, it supports the development of internet enterprises, promotes fair and free competition, protects the rights of consumers and SMEs, and is facilitating the healthy and sustainable development of the online industry.
In short, online enterprises are meant to connect people and communities, promote innovation and protect users' rights and interests. And the moves to check monopolies will help the online enterprises achieve such goals.
The author is director of the Research Center of Intellectual Property and Competition Law, Wuhan University. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.