EU probes Chinese site AliExpress over potentially illegal online products

The European Union also sent requests for info to tech giants on their use of generative artificial intelligence.

AliExpress logo
AliExpress owner Alibaba faces questions around fake food and illegal content on its platform [File: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg]

The European Commission has opened a formal investigation into Chinese e-commerce site AliExpress over concerns about illegal and pornographic content on its platform.

In a statement on Thursday, the European Union’s executive arm said it would investigate the e-commerce giant under its Digital Services Act (DSA), a law requiring companies to do more to tackle illegal and harmful products on their platforms.

The probe will determine if AliExpress breached the DSA in “areas linked to the management and mitigation of risks, to content moderation and the internal complaint handling mechanism, to the transparency of advertising and recommender systems, [and] to the traceability of traders and data access for researchers,” the commission said.

Fake medicines, food, and dietary supplements sales – as well as pornographic material that the commission said minors can still access on the website – are major issues, the statement read.

How AliExpress recommends products to shoppers and whether the site complies with a rule requiring a searchable repository of adverts provided on the platform are other areas of investigation.

The move followed a “request for information” order the EU sent to Alibaba Group Holding Limited, owners of AliExpress, last November, in what was the first stage of the investigation.

In recent months, the EU has challenged the might of Big Tech companies with the DSA – which first came into force last August – and a sister law, the Digital Markets Act.

Both policies have hit tech giants with strict curbs and obligations on how they do business. So far, they have targeted “very large” platforms with more than 45 million monthly European users.

Platforms face fines that can go up to six percent of their global turnover for violations.

“The Digital Services Act is not just about hate speech, disinformation and cyberbullying,” Thierry Breton, the European Commission’s internal markets chief, said on Thursday.

“It is also there to ensure [the] removal of illegal or unsafe products … This is not negotiable.”

On Thursday, the commission also sent requests for information to Microsoft, Alphabet, Meta, TikTok, Snapchat, X – formerly Twitter – and others regarding their use of generative artificial intelligence (AI).

Officials said they will examine whether the companies conduct risk assessments and have risk mitigation measures to tackle potentially harmful generative AI content.

Microsoft’s LinkedIn will separately receive scrutiny over whether it allows profiling in its advertising service following a complaint from civil society organisations.

Earlier in February, the commission opened formal probes into TikTok regarding concerns that the site breached transparency, minor protection, and addictive design rules.

Probes into Meta and X were also announced in December over their regulation of disinformation regarding Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament greenlit the Artificial Intelligence Act, the world’s first set of rules to regulate AI. The act is expected to be endorsed by the European Council in May.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies