December 9, 2023

China announced on Saturday that it had fined e-commerce titan Alibaba a record $ 2.8 billion for monopoly business practices. This was the government’s toughest move to date in its campaign to tighten regulation of the country’s internet giants.

Beijing’s market watchdog began investigating Alibaba for possible antitrust violations in December, including preventing vendors from selling their goods on other shopping platforms. On Saturday, the regulator said its investigation found that Alibaba was hindering competition in online retail in China, affecting innovation in the internet economy and harming consumer interests.

The fine on Alibaba, one of China’s most valuable private companies, exceeds the $ 975 million antitrust fine imposed by the Chinese government on Qualcomm, the American chip giant, in 2015. Even so, it is unlikely that Alibaba’s assets will be significantly affected. The regulator said the 2019 fine represented 4 percent of Alibaba’s domestic sales. The group reported profits of more than $ 12 billion in the last three months of 2020 alone.

Alibaba said in a statement that it would “sincerely” accept the punishment and strengthen its internal systems “to better exercise its social responsibilities.”

Over the past decade, Alibaba’s business has expanded beyond shopping to include logistics, grocery, entertainment, social media, travel booking, and more. Like its peers on the Internet, Alibaba has said that the breadth of its business helps make each of its services more useful. However, critics say the size of the company worsens the playing field for competitors and limits consumer choice.

China started taking a closer look at its tech giants last year. The market regulator proposed updating the country’s antimonopoly law with a new provision for large internet platforms like Alibaba’s. In November, officials put an end to plans by Alibaba’s sister company, finance-focused Ant Group, to go public and tighten control over internet finance.

In December she launched the antimonopoly investigation against Alibaba – an astonishing turnaround for Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba, whom people in China had long cherished as an icon of entrepreneurial plucking.

In the USA and Europe too, skepticism about the power of large Internet companies has increased. Western regulators have repeatedly fined Goliaths like Google over the past few years for various antitrust violations. But such penalties have not changed the nature of businesses in general enough to allay concerns about their power.