Legal challenges loom as online sales boom

As e-commerce grows in Singapore and South-east Asia, so will the legal challenges, such as copyright, consumer protection, government regulation, taxes and data protection, which can act as unwanted "road bumps" to online platforms here.

How companies and the Government should tackle these issues was the topic of discussion at the first Dentons Rodyk panel dialogue held at the Singapore Management University yesterday morning, attended by about 350 participants from the private, public and legal sectors.

Data protection, in particular, is a key concern, as e-commerce platforms hold a wealth of consumers' personal information.

For example, data collected by e-commerce platforms can be made anonymous and put to use by sellers in online marketplaces, giving them the ability to "target a particular consumer with laser-like accuracy", said Mr Gilbert Leong, senior partner for intellectual property and technology at Dentons Rodyk, one of the speakers at the panel.

"Platforms need to understand the laws regarding data transfers. There must be informed consent from the consumer that their data is being used. The Personal Data Protection Commission recently gave an update on the use of anonymised data but I think this is an issue that needs to be looked at," said Mr Leong.

Online sales are rising steadily, with Singapore's e-commerce market expected to grow from US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) to US$5.4 billion by 2025.

Another speaker, online marketplace Lazada chief executive Maximilian Bittner, said there was a need for online platforms to treat consumer sales, whether local or overseas, equally.

"Consumers need to have the same consumer protection rights buying overseas products as though they were buying from a local market, such as to return these products," he said.

Minister of State (Communications and Information) Janil Puthucheary was also on the panel.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'Legal challenges loom as online sales boom'. Print Edition | Subscribe