Ford, Infiniti and Alibaba’s UC Browser Denounced for Unfair Practices on Chinese Consumer Rights TV Show

(Source: Ford)

During a popular annual television program broadcast by state-run China Central Television on March 15 – which is also World Consumer Rights Day – several domestic and foreign brands were singled out for violations of consumer rights.

Dubbed the “315 Gala”, this year’s show exposed high-profile brands including Ford, Infiniti, BMW, Kohler and the Alibaba-backed UC browser to criticism for issues ranging from failures of gearboxes and illegal collection of personal data to false online advertising.

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Nissan’s luxury car brand Infiniti and US automaker Ford were both accused of containing defects in several of their models’ gearboxes. Infiniti tried to cover up the scandal by stopping customers from complaining, while Ford did not actively inform customers of the problem, according to the show.

On Friday night, the two companies issued statements assuring that immediate actions would be taken. In addition, Ford promised free repairs to all the car owners who were affected.

The Chinese unit of US bathroom and kitchen fixture manufacturer Kohler, automaker BMW and fashion brand MaxMara were criticized for implementing facial recognition technology to observe visitors in their stores, which could violate the privacy rules that took effect in the country this year.

Kohler’s China unit said on Friday that they had uninstalled cameras overnight. “We only used the data to count the number of customers and did not save, analyze or transfer the collected data,” it added.

It was also brought to light that several Chinese job recruitment sites illegally sold job seekers’ resumes to companies, resulting in the leakage of personal information into the black market. These sites included Zhilian Zhaopin, 51job and Liepin. The US-listed 51job saw its shares fall by as much as 6% on Monday.

The Alibaba-owned UC web browser and search engine 360 were found to have published false advertisements for unqualified medical institutions. The two internet firms both said that they had already initiated efforts to rectify the transgressions.

China’s market regulator also unveiled new guidelines for online transactions during the Monday show, which hold platform companies accountable for their responsibilities to protect consumer rights. That would involve obtaining permission before collecting users’ sensitive information, allowing merchants to sell goods on multiple platforms and preserving video footage of live-streaming sales for at least three years.

The new rules, which are expected to come into effect in May, could overhaul the legal framework upon which platform companies conduct their business in the world’s largest e-commerce market.

According to data from the State Administration of Market Regulation, the market watchdog has reclaimed 4.4 billion yuan ($677 million) of economic damage on behalf of Chinese consumers during the last year.

World Consumer Rights Day began in 1983, and China began its own consumer education campaign three years later, which features the two-hour prime-time television show “315 Gala”. Similar to CBS network’s “60 Minutes” in the US, the annual show shines a spotlight on brands exhibiting problematic corporate behavior. It has previously reproached Apple for a now one-year service warranty in China – shorter than in other markets – as well as Starbucks for charging higher prices in China than in the US. Local and foreign brands, fearful of being denounced, usually prepare responses in advance, Reuters reported.