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China tightens online ad rules

News, 11 July 2016

BEIJING: Tough new rules covering advertising across all online platforms in China, ranging from search engines to ecommerce sites, will come into force at the beginning of September, the Chinese government has announced.

The State Administration for Industry and Commerce posted the new regulations and guidance on its website last Friday, requiring online ads to indicate clearly the nature of the advertised content, the Shanghai Daily reported.

It means the Chinese authorities now regard all forms of paid-search results to be advertising, and they will have to be identified as such in search results.

The regulations also extend to email marketing, as well as images and videos that promote goods and services, and there could be fines of at least 5,000 yuan (US$750) imposed on online platforms that fail to distinguish paid content.

In addition, prior regulatory approval will be required for ads promoting medical services and supplies, drugs, formula food and other health products.

The latter stipulation no doubt comes as a response to the public outrage that was sparked in April following the death of a college student who used the Baidu search engine to buy a treatment for his cancer, China.org reported.

Zhang Guohua, a senior official at the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, confirmed that search results displayed on all search engines and ecommerce sites will be regarded as ads for as long as their rankings are influenced by financial factors rather than appearing in their order of relevance.

"Some of them are labelled as 'promotions' right now, which are not in line with the new rule," he said.

He went on to say that the authorities will review the regulations as the industry develops, but emphasised that they apply to all types of platform, the Wall Street Journal reported.

That could include users of social media sites, such as Weibo, in the habit of releasing a promotion to followers via their individual feeds.

Data sourced from Shanghai Daily, China.org, Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff