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China launches campaign to clean up big tech and improve their employees’ welfare

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By Shawn Lim | Reporter, Asia Pacific

July 27, 2021 | 5 min read

China is continuing its crackdown on the country’s big tech by launching a national campaign that will address what it perceives as major issues in the digital industry.

The country is also introducing guidelines for online platforms to ensure food delivery riders earn above the country’s minimum wage, are freed from unreasonable demands placed upon them by algorithms, and have access to social security and a place in a union.

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The campaign will target 22 specific scenarios, including apps that do not allow users to opt out of personalization

The national campaign and policy guidelines are being handled by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) respectively.

What is behind the national campaign?

  • The six-month-long campaign will address the ‘tough problems’ of the internet industry, including disturbing market order, infringing users’ rights, threatening data security and unauthorized internet connections.

  • The campaign will target 22 specific scenarios, including apps that do not allow users to opt out of personalization, use pop-ups to mislead or deceive consumers, do not encrypt sensitive information when transmitting data and provide data to third parties without user consent.

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  • It will also crack down on blocking and restricting normal access to other websites without a legitimate reason.

  • These measures are aimed at the likes of Tencent’s WeChat, which is known for blocking links to its competitors, and Bytedance, which owns Douyin (TikTok) and blocks links to livestreaming sites like Alibaba’s Taobao and JD.com.

Why are the policy guidelines being introduced?

  • The guidelines are designed to protect basic labor rights for riders, including a base income, work safety, food safety, a decent working environment and access to insurance coverage.

  • This comes as complaints from riders who work with the food delivery and ride-sharing platforms, such as Ele.me, Meituan and Didi, say that they lack proper labor safeguards.

  • For example, a government video showing the deputy director of the bureau’s labor relations division working an arduous 12-hour shift as a Meituan employee went viral online. He earned $6.30 at the end of his first day after being 20 minutes late for a delivery.

  • The guidelines state platforms must ensure that riders earn above the minimum wage in the area they operate in and prohibit platforms from using strict algorithms to benchmark a rider’s performance.

  • The platforms will have to use a moderate algorithm that can ‘appropriately allow more time for riders to finish their deliveries’.

  • They have to help riders gain access to social security as well as commercial insurance to cover things such as accidents and sickness.

  • Platforms have also been ordered to build ‘union organizations’ and play an active role in recruiting riders into these unions so that they can participate in negotiating labor rights.

  • They have also been asked to improve the general working conditions of riders, including rest stations for riders, smart meal-retrieval cabinets and smart helmets for riders to boost safety.

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