Chinese e-commerce platforms are cracking down on fake or substandard protective masks, potentially the most visible symbol of the novel coronavirus outbreak that has rocked the country.

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Why it matters: The coronavirus outbreak has triggered a rise in global demand for protective masks. Online retailers are tightening monitoring efforts to fight unethical sellers looking to benefit during a country-wide crisis by offering substandard products.

  • Face mask production capacity in China is around 20 million per day, a representative of the Ministry of Information and Technology told local media.
  • Daily demand for masks in China with its population of 1.4 billion surged to the hundreds of millions within a few days according to estimations from e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, according the company’s head of anti-epidemic team Fu Zheng in an emailed statement.

Chinese tech firms ramp up support to battle outbreak

Details: Alibaba has permanently barred 15 stores from operating on its shopping platforms for selling “problematic” masks, the company announced Tuesday through its official account on microblogging platform Weibo.

  • The company has removed 570,000 questionable mask listings and has referred five of the banned stores to authorities for further investigation, Alibaba said in the statement.
  • Alibaba’s marketplace regulatory unit reiterated its “zero tolerance” stance towards such behaviors in the statement released Wednesday. The firm suggested that the government should add such sellers to a country’s credit blacklist.
  • Alibaba did not respond to requests for comment.
  • Pinduoduo has removed 500,715 items and has closed more than 40 stores as of Feb. 4, the company said. Pinduoduo’s anti-epidemic group will run spot checks on protective gear listed on the platform, Fu Zheng added, to assess whether masks are up to national standards for particle filtering.
  • Sellers found to be selling problematic products will be removed from the platform, have their cash accounts frozen, and will be reported to the police, the company said, and the platform will reimburse the buyers.
  • JD has removed seven merchants from its platform, local media reported.

Context: Counterfeit goods have long plagued Chinese e-commerce platforms. To fight the issue, e-commerce platforms have rolled out anti-counterfeit initiatives by forming industry alliances, and implementing new technologies like artificial intelligence and big data, among others.

  • The platforms are assessing protective product quality by analyzing in real-time merchants and product listings using data points such as product specification and user reviews. In addition, they are pulling random samples to examine and test the products.
  • On Feb. 2, China’s Ministry of Public Security ordered a clampdown on sales of counterfeit and inferior protective products, the stockpiling such items, and inflating prices during the virus outbreak.

Updated: added the Ministry of Public Security statement.

Emma Lee

Emma Lee is Shanghai-based tech writer, covering startups and tech happenings in China and Asia in general. We are looking for stories related to tech and China. Reach her at lixin@technode.com.

Shi Jiayi

Shi Jiayi is the Shanghai-based visual reporter helping provide multimedia elements about China’s fast-changing technology and culture. She holds a B.A. in Convergence Journalism from the University...

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