LCQ14: Measures to enhance safety of online shopping
Following is a question by the Hon Chan Han-pan and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, in the Legislative Council today (December 7):
(3) of a breakdown, set out in Table 2, of the numbers in (1) by transaction amount (less than $200, $200 to $499, $500 to $999, $1,000 to $1,999, $2,000 to $4,999, $5,000 to $9,999, $10,000 to $19,999 and $20,000 or above);
(4) of a breakdown, set out in Table 3, of the numbers in (1) by nature of complaints (sales practices, price/charge disputes, late delivery/lost packages, repair/maintenance services, quality of goods, quality of services, quantity issues, installation issues, hygiene issues, contract termination/variation, sales of suspected counterfeit goods, disputes on expiry date, safety issues, wrong models, closing down of online shops and others);
(5) as online transactions involve commercial arrangements among online shopping platforms, product or service providers, delivery companies and cross-border payment service providers, and such companies may not necessarily be incorporated in Hong Kong, whether the authorities have assessed if the existing legislation (including the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap 486), Trade Descriptions Ordinance (Cap 362), Sale of Goods Ordinance (Cap 26) and Supply of Services (Implied Terms) Ordinance (Cap 457)) can effectively protect the rights and interests of Hong Kong consumers;
(6) whether it has plans to enact legislation or formulate codes of practice (including the imposition of cooling-off periods) specifically for the regulation of online transactions so as to protect the rights and interests of consumers; whether it will, by making reference to relevant overseas experience, examine the development of a dispute resolution mechanism for domestic and cross-border online transactions; and
(7) of the expenditures incurred in the past five years by the authorities on, and the achievements of, the promotional and educational work to draw the attention of the public to the matters to note for online transactions?
In recent years, business transactions via the Internet (i.e. e-commerce) have been booming globally as well as in Hong Kong. According to the study report on online shopping published by the Consumer Council (CC) on November 7 this year, online shoppers in Hong Kong were highly satisfied with their experiences, with 79 per cent of the respondents expressing confidence in online shopping, and some 98 per cent being satisfied or very satisfied. Among the respondents, consumers aged 15-44 were content with the efficiency, convenience and on-time delivery of online shopping, while consumers aged 45 or above were content with online shops selling goods at a lower price than at physical stores, as well as goods and services meeting their expectations.
The Government attaches great importance to consumer protection. Consumers who encounter disputes with online traders may seek assistance from various agencies, such as the CC to seek conciliation. Their rights are also protected by various pieces of legislation, including the Trade Descriptions Ordinance enforced by the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) and the Communications Authority (CA). The Trade Descriptions Ordinance, with effect from July 19, 2013, prohibits some commonly seen unfair trade practices, including false trade descriptions and misleading omissions. It is equally applicable to online traders and physical stores.
The Government will continue to keep a close watch on the development of online platforms and review relevant laws as necessary for the protection of consumer rights.
Having consulted the CC and other departments of the Government, my reply to the seven parts of the question is as follows:
(1) The number of complaints in relation to online shopping received by the CC, C&ED and CA is as follows:
In the table above, the bracketed figures show the percentage of cases found not pursuable following preliminary examination. For the CC, cases may be found not pursuable due to the following reasons: complaints made anonymously; insufficient case details; and complaints falling outside the CC's scope of work. For the C&ED and the CA, the reasons include: complainants only seeking to put their cases on record; complainants unable to provide sufficient information; no international standard applicable or recognised organisation for testing; cases falling outside the agency's jurisdiction; complaints clearly unjustified, etc.
The remaining cases were found pursuable. The CC handled such cases by conciliation. The C&ED and CA conducted further investigation into such cases, and would take suitable actions when a breach is found. Such actions may include the issuance of warning or advisory letters, acceptance of written undertakings, initiation of prosecution, etc.
According to the information provided by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), over the past five years, it received on average about 70 complaints per year regarding the online booking of sports facilities through its Leisure Link online booking system. One case in 2016 was found non-pursuable due to the complainant being unable to provide sufficient information. Otherwise, all other complaints have been resolved. The number of complaints in relation to online booking of sports venues is as follows:
As regards complaints in relation to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (PDPO), according to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD), it had received 22 complaints relating to online transactions from January 2012 to November 2016. The cases have been closed for 21 of these complaints, among which three were closed following the PCPD's conciliation or issuance of letters to convey concerns to the complainees; three had no prima facie or substantiated case of contravention of the PDPO; two could not be further processed as the complainees were offshore entities; 13 could not be pursued as the complainants withdrew the complaints, refused to disclose their identities, were not the data subjects, failed to provide information or were unreachable despite the PCPD's attempts to contact them.
(2) The number of complaints on online shopping received by the CC, broken down by industry, is as follows:
The number of complaints on online shopping received by the C&ED, broken down by industry, is as follows:
The number of complaints on online shopping received by the CA, broken down by industry, is as follows:
As regards complaints in relation to government sports venues and the PDPO, according to the LCSD, all complaints received by the department were in relation to its Leisure Link online booking system; and according to the PCPD, it did not maintain statistics on the products/services involved in the complaints on online transactions.
(3) The number of complaints on online shopping received by the CC, broken down by transaction amount, is as follows:
The C&ED and CA do not maintain complaint statistics on the basis of the transaction amount.
As regards complaints in relation to government sports venues, according to the LCSD, the majority of complaints received in relation to its Leisure Link online booking system were about operational issues of its booking systems, while a small portion were about unsuccessful bookings or transactions. No actual monetary transaction was involved.
As regards complaints in relation to the PDPO, according to the PCPD, it did not maintain statistics on the transaction amount involved in the complaints on online transactions.
(4) The number of complaints on online shopping received by the CC, broken down by the nature of complaints, is as follows:
The number of complaints on online shopping received by the C&ED, broken down by the nature of complaints, is as follows:
The number of complaints on online shopping received by the CA, broken down by the nature of complaints, is as follows:
Note: As some complaints received by the CA involved more than one allegation of suspected breach of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, the total number of cases broken down by offences is greater than the total number of complaints received.
As regards complaints in relation to government sports venues, according to the LCSD, all complaints received in relation to its Leisure Link online booking system were about the operation, repair and maintenance of the system. According to the PCPD, all complaints it received were related to personal data privacy.
(5) Legislation pertaining to consumer protection in Hong Kong applies to sales activities conducted both physically and online. The Government will continue to keep a close watch on the development of online platforms and review the relevant legislation as necessary for the protection of consumer rights.
Generally speaking, Hong Kong legislation does not regulate conduct outside Hong Kong. Consumer transactions conducted outside Hong Kong's jurisdiction may carry some risk. For instance, the extent of protection accorded by other jurisdictions to consumers may be different from Hong Kong, and Hong Kong's enforcement agencies do not have authority over activities outside Hong Kong's jurisdiction. These issues are not unique to Hong Kong and are also encountered by other jurisdictions in their regulations of online trade.
(6) As mentioned above, the Trade Descriptions Ordinance prohibits unfair trade practices, and is applicable to both online and physical traders. The Government will continue to keep a close watch on the development of online platforms and review the relevant laws as necessary for the protection of consumer rights. At present, the CC acts as a conciliator in handling disputes between consumers and traders. It adopts a flexible approach as it assists traders and complainants resolve their disputes. The CC's statistics show that the majority of complaints are resolved using this approach. According to the CC's online shopping report, the CC will continue to monitor online shopping. It will also support initiatives by business or with fellow consumer organisations on the development of online dispute resolution mechanisms. We will continue to keep in view the CC's work in this regard.
(7) The CC and law enforcement agencies have all along been promoting the importance of smart consumption to consumers. For example, on the subject of online shopping, a good number of articles have been featured in the CHOICE Magazine in recent years giving tips to consumers who purchase various products online. Such articles covered online booking of hotel rooms, internet banking services, group purchases, online purchase of food products, etc. In addition, in promoting the Trade Descriptions Ordinance to traders and the public, the C&ED has also reminded the public to be aware of previous prosecutions against online retailers and the trade practices concerned. These measures aim to remind consumers of issues they should be aware of. They are part of the regular duties of the agencies concerned. It is difficult to quantify separately the expenditures involved.
Ends/Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:30