On June 25, 2016, the State Internet Information Office promulgated the Regulations on Internet Information Search Services (hereinafter, the “Regulations”) to stipulate a series of requirements to address search engine issues such as the lack of objectivity and engaging in false advertisement to prevent continued misdirection and impairment of judgment to the public. The Regulations will go into effect on August 1, 2016.
Pursuant to the Regulations, an Internet information search service provider must comply with the following obligations: Establish a robust information security management system to prevent the dissemination of unlawful content; retain and timely provide to the state or local Internet information offices any search results that clearly contain information, websites and application that are prohibited by law; refrain from pursuing improper gains by severing relevant links or providing search results that contain false information; provide objective, fair and authoritative search results without impairing national interest, public interest and the lawful rights and interests of the citizens, legal persons and other organizations; when paid information search services are provided, the qualifications of the clients should be verified, the cap on the proportion of paid searches clearly indicated, and there needs to be a conspicuous distinction between natural search results and paid search results, with conspicuous marks added to paid search information entry by entry; commercial advertising information services must comply with the relevant laws if provided; and a robust public complaint, reporting and user protection system shall be established, with the methods to lodge such public complaints and reports displayed in a conspicuous place, actively accept monitoring by the public, timely handle public complaints, and assume liabilities for damages to usersÕ rights and interests. Some of the more practice guidance in the Regulations include the following:
First, paid searches, which were previously quite controversial, are defined as “paid information search services.” Therefore, the current Advertising Law cannot effectively cover them, and the Regulations are specifically formulated to regulate them.
Second, the State Internet Information Office and local Internet information offices are required to supervise over Internet information search services nationwide and in local jurisdictions.
Third, the Regulations focus on the rules on paid information searches. Search service providers may not seek improper gains by providing search results containing false information. At the same time, search providers must conspicuously distinguish between natural searches and paid searches so that the public will not be misled by price-based competitive search results that are irrelevant.
Fourth, the Regulations stipulate that search results must be objective, fair and authoritative. Since the fairness of search results directly impact public knowledge, and the authoritative aspect is primarily reflected only in certain special domains such as illness, health, foods and drugs, search providers must verify the accuracy of such information to avoid the “Zexi Wei incident” from happening again.
In addition, the State Internet Information Office has set up a website and hotline for reporting Internet-related legal violations and inappropriate information. The URL of such website is www.12377.cn; the reporting hotline is 12377; and the reporting email is firstname.lastname@example.org.