Internet giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent joined forces this week to combat online trading in wildlife parts, an illicit practice that continues on e-commerce and social media platforms.
The alliance also has eight other members, including websites for trading secondhand items such as Zhuanzhuan and 58.com, and sites for buying and discussing antiques, including auction sites like cang.com and Wenwantianxia.
A charter was signed by all alliance members on Monday. Under the charter, the member companies are committed to detecting and removing illegal wildlife trade advertisements on their sites and sending warnings to users and prohibiting them from releasing such information.
The platforms will apply advanced technologies such as big data analysis and artificial intelligence to detect signs of the illegal wildlife trade. Members will strengthen collaboration and share information, techniques and experience in dealing with the wildlife trade online.
"We will also make efforts to train our employees to identify illegal wildlife products and raise their awareness about wildlife cybercrime," said Qin Qi, deputy director of Tencent's security management department.
"All members will actively assist law enforcement agencies in investigations and prosecutions and support other industries, in particular the logistics industry, in combating the illegal wildlife trade. This will raise the costs of illegal trades in order to reduce the cases," she said.
Traffic, an international NGO that operates a wildlife trade monitoring network, released a report on wildlife cybercrime in China in July. After monitoring 58 social media accounts, the report indicated that China's e-commerce platforms have become major channels for the sale of illegal wildlife products, with more than half of that trade involving elephant ivory.
Research from 2012 to 2016 shows that 63 percent of wildlife product ads were for ivory, followed by rhino horn, which accounted for 18 percent. Other illegal trade involved tiger parts and helmeted hornbill beaks.
"Dealers can reach the buyers easily through social media, such as WeChat and other online chat tools, which increases the difficulties for law enforcement," said Chu Weidong, deputy director of the Protection Department of the State Forestry Administration.
"With support from the internet platforms, fighting against wildlife cybercrime will be more effective," Chu said.
The administration previously had strengthened enforcement. Last year, 15 people in Jiangsu province were convicted in the illegal trade of protected wild animals on instant-messaging tools QQ and WeChat.
Two dealers in Hainan province were also detained for the illegal trade of protected wild turtles last year.
According to Traffic's report, new wildlife product ads on the internet decreased from 4,000 a month in March 2012 to 2,000 in October 2013 to 1,000 in September 2016.
"The alliance is a milestone for collective efforts by internet companies, government agencies and NGOs to tackle the illegal wildlife trade online. We will help to promote greater sharing of experience between the alliance and other international organizations to combat the illegal trade," said Zhou Fei, head of Traffic's China office.