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AliExpress in Europe’s crosshairs: formal investigation for DSA violations

by Andrew

The European Commission has announced in the past few hours the launch of a formal proceeding against AliExpress, the Chinese e-commerce giant, for possible violations of the Digital Services Act (DSA). The DSA aims to create a safer and more responsible online environment for EU citizens and businesses, but the Commission believes that AliExpress has not taken the necessary steps to comply with several provisions of the law, including transparency obligations, the lack of an effective system to handle user complaints about illegal or harmful content, and the absence of measures against misinformation on its platform.

In April of 2023, AliExpress stated that it has 104.3 million monthly active users in the EU, so a very large online platform (VLOP) has been designated. As such, AliExpress had to start complying with a number of obligations set out in the Digital Services Act.

Here is a list of the areas that will be carefully monitored, as per the official publication.

“Compliance with the obligations of the Digital Services Act relating to the assessment and mitigation of systemic risks of the dissemination of illegal content, as well as actual or foreseeable adverse effects on consumer protection related in particular to:
The non-enforcement of AliExpress’ terms of service that prohibit certain products that pose health risks to consumers (such as counterfeit medicines and food and dietary supplements) and specifically to minors (access to pornographic material), which consumers can still find on the platform;
The lack of effective measures to prevent the spread of illegal content;
The lack of effective measures to prevent intentional manipulation on the online platform through so-called “hidden links”;
The lack of effective measures to prevent the risks arising from characteristics such as influencers promoting illegal or harmful products through the AliExpress “affiliate program”.
Compliance with the obligation of the Digital Services Act to allow all users, including those who are not registered, to notify illegal content and to receive confirmation of receipt of notification;
Compliance with the obligation of the Digital Services Act to provide an effective internal complaint-handling system;
Compliance with the obligation of the Digital Services Act to collect and assess the reliability and completeness of the information requested from traders using AliExpress, including in relation to traders under the “AliExpress Affiliate program”, in line with the traceability of traders;
Compliance with the obligation of the Digital Services Act to provide transparency on the main parameters used in AliExpress recommendation systems and to provide at least one option of the recommendation system not based on profiling;
Compliance with the obligation of the Digital Services Act to provide a searchable and reliable record for advertisements presented on AliExpress;
Compliance with the obligation under the Digital Services Act to grant researchers access to AliExpress publicly accessible data, as provided for in Article 40 of the Digital Services Act.”

The Commission will continue to gather evidence, sending further requests for information to AliExpress, conducting interviews with the company and, if necessary, carrying out inspections. The duration will depend on several factors, including the severity and nature of the alleged violations will affect the duration of the investigation, and AliExpress’ cooperation: the Commission will treat cases in which the company actively cooperates with priority. AliExpress naturally has the right to defend itself against the allegations and to submit its observations to the Commission.

“The Digital Services Act is not just about hate speech, disinformation and cyberbullying. There is also a goal to ensure the removal of illegal or unsafe products sold in the EU through e-commerce platforms. This is non-negotiable to operate in the EU’s single market. As a platform that reaches over 100 million users in the EU, AliExpress must fully comply with the Digital Services Act and take proportionate measures to combat the spread of goods that are dangerous to the health of consumers and minors, including by influencers who are members of their “affiliate program”. With the proceedings launched today, we want to assess whether this is the case and ensure that no action is spared to safeguard our citizens.”

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