Belgium: The European Commission has sent a formal request for information to the Chinese e-commerce website AliExpress over the measures it takes to protect consumers from illegal products such as the sale of fake medicines online.

AliExpress, which is owned by Chinese tech giant Alibaba, needs to respond by November 27 or could face an investigation.

The European Commission could impose a fine for “incorrect, incomplete, or misleading information” related to the request.

AliExpress is considered a “very large online platform” under the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) which entered into force for these platforms in August.

It means the company is subject to new requirements aimed at protecting online users.

“The Digital Services Act is not just about hate speech, disinformation, and cyberbullying,” said Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, in a statement.

“It is also there to ensure removal of illegal or unsafe products sold in the EU via e-commerce platforms, including the growing number of fake and potentially life-threatening medicines and pharmaceuticals sold online,” he added.

The European Commission has also sent formal requests to TikTok, Meta and X (formerly Twitter) over the spread of disinformation and illegal or violent content.

Not complying with the new EU rules carries large penalties proportionate to the company’s size.

Platforms designated as “very large,” meaning they have at least 45 million monthly active users (10 per cent of the EU population), could be fined up to six per cent of their global turnover.

The European Commission could also place the platform under enhanced supervision or as a “very last resort” request judges to ban the platform from the bloc.

So far, the EU has designated 19 companies as very large online platforms or search engines.

Fake medicines in online markets

A 2022 report from the EU Intellectual Property Office and Europol said that counterfeit pharmaceutical products had shifted from physical to online markets, with an “increasingly wide range of medicines”.

Counterfeit and pirated goods imported into the bloc have an estimated value of €119 billion, the report added.

Patients in Austria and the UK were recently hospitalised with serious side effects after taking falsified weight-loss medication, with regulators warning physicians to verify the source of supply if not from legal pharmacies.

Under the Digital Services Act, online marketplaces must identify traders selling products to better protect consumers from illegal products.

They are also required to inform consumers who purchased a product once the company is aware of the illegality of it and carry out random checks on product documentation.