16 March 2020
Radar - March 2020 – 2 of 3 Insights
We look at some of the legal issues which have been brought into focus for businesses as a result of the spread of COVID-19.
We all know what the issue is – the spread of COVID-19 presents huge challenges for us all. Quite apart from the health issues, the markets are in freefall and businesses are grappling to deal with challenges.
Each sector and each business in that sector will be facing different issues.
See here for areas of impact which can give rise to legal issues.
Taking a closer look at some of the sectors Radar covers on a regular basis:
The spread of COVID-19 may result in data controllers having to begin new processing operations, many of which will involve sensitive personal data (which includes health data). The important thing to remember is that while some jurisdictions have passed specific legislation to permit the sharing and other processing of health data, the GDPR and DPA18 continue to apply in the UK. See here for more.
We have all heard stories about ridiculous prices for hand sanitizer and face masks, and about the spread of disinformation both about the virus and around products which falsely claim to provide protections or even cures.
As with data protection law, consumer protection and competition laws continue to apply. The CMA issued a statement last week on sales and pricing practices during the COVID-19 outbreak. It said it would consider evidence that companies may have broken competition and consumer protection law, "for example by charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about the efficacy of protective equipment. And it will take direct enforcement action in appropriate places". It has also said it will assess whether it should advise the government to consider taking direct action to regulate prices.
The EU's Rapid Alert System which monitors serious cases of disinformation has been used to share knowledge on fake news relating to the virus with other Member States and the G7. The system was launched in March last year and this is the first time it has been used.
The COVID-19 outbreak is also testing the efficacy of the Commission's voluntary Code of Practice on online disinformation and signatories which include Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter, have been meeting with the EC and explaining what they are doing to tackle coronavirus-related online fake news which, in some cases, goes beyond actions required under their normal misinformation policies.
Twitter has introduced a pop-up directing users to credible national medical sites and has announced it will be removing inappropriate and opportunistic advertisements relating to the virus.
Facebook is also taking steps to direct people searching for information on the virus to credible sites, to take down content "debunked" by credible experts, and has banned advertisements for products which claim to prevent or cure COVID-19.
Facebook, alongside Google and others, is also committing to give the WHO and other reputable organisations, aggregated and anonymised data to assist with modelling and forecasting.
The situation is somewhat different on Chinese app WeChat which is reportedly censoring certain words connected to the outbreak.