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Provisions on the Administration of Internet Information Services

What is the major purpose of the "Provisions on the Administration of Internet Information Services" issued by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) on 27 July 2011?

It is to protect citizens against the misuse of personal information by Internet Information Service Providers.  The draft regulations, entitled "Provisions on the Administration of Internet Information Services" (Provisions), establish users' rights and set guidelines for the distribution of Internet services.  The Provisions stipulate that, among other requirements, Internet Information Service Providers must collect only personal information relevant to Internet services, inform users about the terms of the information collection before obtaining consent and protect users' information from distribution to third parties.

Is there any provision regarding information of business competitors?

The Provisions establish guidelines for behaviour between competing Internet Information Service Providers.  According to the new regulations, providers cannot slander or spread false information about competitors, nor can they force users to uninstall services offered by competitors or limit the use of competitors' services.The Provisions represent China's first Internet service regulations to explicitly address the issues of competition and personal information protection.  These new standards come in response to the Chinese public's recent concerns about personal information security and privacy.  In particular, they can be applied to issues rising from disputes in November 2010 between feuding technology companies Tencent and Qihoo 360.

What is the major issues concerning the disputes between Tencent and Qihoo 360?

Qihoo, China's largest antivirus software provider, had accused Tencent and its popular QQ social networking program of spying on users and breaching personal information privacy.  Qihoo claimed Tencent scanned the hard drives of QQ's users while they were running the QQ instant messaging software-an accusation that could have affected more than 600 million QQ users.  Qihoo then launched a new privacy protection program that reportedly prevented certain QQ services from working on machines installed with both 360 and QQ.  In response, Tencent vehemently denied claims of spying and filed a lawsuit against Qihoo, claiming unfair trade practices.  Tencent also stated it would disable its services on computers installed with 360 antivirus software.  Caught in the middle of these disputes, users of both providers were left with the choice to uninstall either QQ or 360.

How do the "Provisions" deal with those issues arising from the case between Tencent and Qihoo 360"?

First, Article 5 of the Provisions states that "fabricating and spreading false information that harms other Internet service providers' legitimate rights and interests" is not allowed.  Based on this new regulation, Qihoo would be prohibited from slandering Tencent.  The Provisions now indicate service providers that have disputes, like Qihoo, should contact the MIIT or relevant local authorities in order to resolve them. Second, Article 5 also prohibits "interfering with or affecting the running of services or related products offered by other Internet service providers on a user's terminal".  Had this regulation been in place during dispute between Qihoo and Tencent, both companies would have been in violation of this regulation by blocking the other provider's programs on the computers installed with both QQ and 360. 

What is the specific rule regarding the collection of users' personal information?

MIIT has put in place concrete provisions against the collection of users' personal information without their consent. Article 12 states:Without the user's consent, the Internet Information Service Provider shall not collect information relevant to the user that can be use[d] alone or in combination with other information to identify the user's identity (hereinafter referred to as "personal information"), except as otherwise provided by the laws and administrative regulations.  Internet Information Service Providers can only collect user's personal information necessary for the service.  Internet Information Service Providers should clearly inform the user of the method, content, and purpose of the collection as well as its process.  The collection of personal information shall not exceed the use of personal information mentioned above."This provision creates the first Chinese documented regulation against Internet Information Service Providers violating user privacy. 

What is the liability for violating the Provisions?

For all Internet Information Service Providers, failure to adhere to these Provisions could result in fines of RMB 10,000 to 30,000 (approximately US$1540 - 4620).  However, it should be noted that the Provisions currently stand only as draft standards; they are voluntary regulations that lack the full strength of legal enforcement. 

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