E-shopping fears spur AI law push

Hong Kong should introduce new legislation to regulate the use of artificial intelligence instead of solely relying on non-legally-binding guidelines, the Consumer Council said, after its survey has found public concern about data privacy.

The call came as the watchdog released its findings on AI developments in e-commerce yesterday, after completing a survey of 1,219 online shoppers 15 years old and above in October and November.

It found 60 percent of respondents had never read the privacy policy of online stores, although 70 percent said they were worried such platforms had collected excessive personal data from them.

The council has also reviewed privacy policies at 112 local and non-local online stores, and found up to 10 percent had collected data unrelated to transactions, such as shoppers' education levels, incomes as well as marital and employment status.

Only six stores disclosed their aim of AI training or machine learning in their personal information collection policies.

Some 78 percent of the respondents said they wished to be informed by traders of their use of AI, while over 80 percent said they could choose whether to accept the use of AI tools.

The results also showed over 75 percent are unfamiliar with AI and are concerned over privacy issues.

Council chairman Clement Chan Kam-wing called on online shops to be more transparent when collecting data.

Enterprises, he said, should state the use of personal information collected in a clear manner and whether the information will be disclosed to third parties.

"Collecting information like that is okay as long as they make it very clear to consumers the purpose of collecting such data and the associated security data relating to those data collected, such as retention period, and how are they going to use their data," he said.

Chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said Hong Kong has yet to be mature in AI regulations.

She said if Hong Kong takes reference from other countries, it should set up a set of rules on the ethical use of AI and the protection of consumer rights and privacy.

So far, regions like China, Singapore and the European Union have well-established rules on AI regulation, such as data privacy and transparency of data handling.

Wong suggested the SAR should take reference from those regions to accelerate the development of its governing framework on AI.