Alibaba, SF Express Clash Over Data Access

Chinese media report that a major disagreement is developing between Cainiao, the logistics affiliate of Alibaba Group Holdings, and leading Chinese parcel delivery company SF Express, over the access to data about the merchants that sell their products and the shoppers who place orders on line.

Delivering packages. But who owns the customer's data?
Delivering packages. But who owns the customer's data?

According to a report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), SF Express claimed in a Shenzhen stock exchange filing that Cainiao had removed it as a shipping option, and blocked access to data. Cainiao responded by saying it was the courier that first walled off vital information.
Reports said the tussle is a potential flash point for a nation that is increasingly dependent on online commerce and the standoff had now caught the attention of China’s State Post Bureau, prompting it to issue a notice urging both sides to sort out their differences.

Data access has become big business
“Both parties should seek a solution on the basis of the largest possible common ground, abide by market order and consumers’ rights and refrain from exerting severe and negative social influence because of company feuding,” the bureau said in a statement.
Alibaba's Cainiao relies on courier companies to deliver some 42m parcels a day and the ownership of related data has become big business for the likes of Alibaba, which monetise it through advertising and cross-selling of services.
According to SF Express, which delivers 1m parcels a day for merchants on Alibaba’s Taobao e-commerce platform, the express firm stopped providing logistics information for Cainiao’s “last mile” delivery options, after Alibaba requested that it turn over data on customers who used the service.

Reciprocal data blockades
SF Express said Cainiao asked for information on SF Express clients that went beyond how Alibaba’s customers were using the service. It subsequently blocked all data on delivery from Alibaba, including data about orders delivered to Taobao customers. Cainiao, 47% owned by Alibaba, responded by blocking SF Express.
In a statement, SF Express said it would “continue to guard its core competitiveness and hopes other courier companies will be vigilant against Cainiao dipping its finger in courier companies’ core data.” SF Express has also alleged that Alibaba blocked its courier services in retaliation for refusing to use Alibaba’s cloud services. Alibaba has dismissed the claims.
Meanwhile, the SCMP quoted Richard Liu Qiangdong, chairman and chief executive of Alibaba’s online shopping competitor, as saying that he supported SF Express in the dispute, while calling for an official investigation into any data privacy breach on the courier firms’ platforms.

In the meantime, both parties have reached an agreement on the dispute over data sharing, as announced today (6 June). SF Express started flying Alibaba shipments again.

Nol van Fenema

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