BIC judges untangle e-platform algorithm
Zhang Wen, president of the Beijing Internet Court (BIC), together with BIC Vice-president Zhao Ruigang and Judge Liu Xing did an interview with Law Online, a TV program at CCTV on the topic of e-platform algorithms on Nov 3 taking a look at a trialed case involving a takeout platform's delivery fee quotes.
On Oct 29, 2019, when ordering food from a takeout service, a person surnamed Chen found that the delivery fee shown while selecting the food was 6 yuan ($0.94), but was 7 yuan at the checkout page. Chen returned to the selection page to refresh the order, but still ended up paying 7 yuan for delivery. Chen believed that the takeout platform's prices were fraudulent and took the matter to court.
The takeout service platform claimed that Chen was aware of the discrepancy in the delivery fees on different pages and paid it voluntarily. The reason for the discrepancy was that Chen's location data was obtained on the first page of the order, and according to the location that was obtained, the delivery fee calculated at that address was not the actual delivery fee, which was computed by the final address provided by Chen. The charge of fraudulent pricing therefore did not stand.
BIC concluded that the takeout service adopted different location-obtaining methods on the selection page and the checkout page to calculate delivery fees. This was backed up by factual proof and so there was no falsehood or concealment of information. Subjectively the service did not have the intention to deceive Chen, and thus did not commit fraud.
However, when the takeout service provides estimated delivery fee information on its homepage, it is obligated to say that the estimated fee may not be the fee that is actually charged. A failure to do so constitutes negligence. Thus the takeout service was ordered to pay 1 yuan in economic losses to Chen.
In online platform algorithm-related disputes, the general public usually lacks enough knowledge to be able to provide proof. By thoroughly investigating this case, the court determined whether the platform had committed fraud or failed to perform its legal obligations. The trial of this case serves as an example for regulating online platforms' behavior to avoid future algorithm-related disputes.
In the process of guiding technology and toward the greater good, judiciaries are playing a bigger role in regulating and guiding the platform economy, according to Zhao.
"The increasing litigation involving cutting-edge issues such as algorithm safety and boundaries of big data application reflect the increasing awareness of self-protection among the general public. The courts' judgments in such cases are thus evolving and progressing as well," Zhang said.