SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20549
REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR 12(g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
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TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
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◻ Yes ⌧
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☐ Item 17 ☐ Item 18
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
This annual report on Form 20-F includes our audited consolidated financial statements as of December 31, 2019 and 2020 and for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Translations in this annual report of amounts from RMB into U.S. dollars for the convenience of the reader were calculated at the noon buying rate of US$1.00: RMB6.5250 on the last trading day of 2020 (December 31, 2020) as set forth in the H.10 statistical release of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board.
Conventions that Apply to This Annual Report on Form 20-F
Unless the context otherwise requires, references in this annual report on Form 20-F to:
|●||“2009 RSU Plan” are to our 2009 Restricted Share Unit Plan adopted in November 2009;|
|●||“2019 RSU Plan” are to our 2019 Restricted Share Unit Plan adopted in October 2019;|
|●||“ADSs” are to the American depositary shares, each of which represents five ordinary shares;|
|●||“AI” are to artificial intelligence;|
|●||“AR” are to augmented reality;|
|●||“Boguan” are to Guangzhou Boguan Telecommunication Technology Co., Ltd., a company established under PRC laws;|
|●||“CAC” are to the Cyberspace Administration of China;|
|●||“CBIRC are to the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission;|
|●||“CBRC” are to the China Banking Regulatory Commission;|
|●||“CCASS” are to the Central Clearing and Settlement System established and operated by Hong Kong Securities Clearing Company Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong Exchange and Clearing Limited;|
|●||“CCGs” are to collectible card games;|
|●||“China” and “PRC” are to the People’s Republic of China, excluding, for the purposes of this annual report only, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan;|
|●||“CSRC” are to the China Securities Regulatory Commission;|
|●||“FIEs” are to Foreign Invested Enterprises;|
|●||“GAPP” are to the General Administration of Press and Publication of China;|
|●||“Guangzhou NetEase” are to Guangzhou NetEase Computer System Co., Ltd., a company established under PRC laws;|
|●||“Hangzhou Leihuo” are to Hangzhou NetEase Leihuo Technology Co., Ltd. (formerly known as Hangzhou NetEase Leihuo Network Co., Ltd. for identification purposes), a company established under PRC laws;|
|●||“HK$” or “HK dollars” are to the legal currency of Hong Kong;|
|●||“HNTEs” are to High and New Technology Enterprises;|
|●||“Hong Kong Listing Rules” are to the Rules Governing the Listing of Securities on The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited, as amended or supplemented from time to time;|
|●||“Hong Kong Stock Exchange” are to The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited;|
|●||“Hong Kong NetEase” are to Hong Kong NetEase Interactive Entertainment Limited, a company incorporated under Hong Kong laws;|
|●||“ICP(s)” are to Internet content provider(s);|
|●||“NetEase Hangzhou” are to NetEase (Hangzhou) Network Co., Ltd., a company established under PRC laws;|
|●||“Machine learning” are to an application of AI that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed;|
|●||“MAUs” for Youdao are to the average of the monthly number of unique mobile or PC devices, as the case may be, through which such product and service is accessed at least once in that month (duplicate access to different products and services is not eliminated from the calculation) for a specific period with respect to each of Youdao’s products and services (except for smart devices). MAUs for Youdao are calculated using internal company data, treating each distinguishable device as a separate MAU even though some users may access Youdao’s products and services using more than one device and multiple users may access our services using the same;|
|●||“MMORPGs” are to massively multi-player online role-playing games;|
|●||“MII” and later “MIIT” are to the Ministry of Information Industry of China, which later became the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China;|
|●||“MOBA” are to multi-player online battle arena;|
|●||“MOC” and later “MOCT” are to the Ministry of Culture of China which later became the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China;|
|●||“MOF” are to the Ministry of Finance of China;|
|●||“MOFCOM” are the Ministry of Commerce of China;|
|●||“NCIIC” are to the Ministry of Public Security’s National Citizen Identity Information Center of China;|
|●||“NDRC” are to the National Development and Reform Commission of China;|
|●||“NMT” are to neural machine translation;|
|●||“NPPA” are to the National Press and Publication Administration of China;|
|●||“NRTA” are to the National Radio and Television Administration of China;|
|●||“OCR” are to optical character recognition;|
|●||“R&D” are to research and development;|
|●||“RMB” or “Renminbi” are to the legal currency of the People’s Republic of China;|
|●||“RPGs” are to role-playing games;|
|●||“PBOC” are to the People’s Bank of China;|
|●||“SAFE” are to the State Administration of Foreign Exchange of China;|
|●||“SAIC” are the State Administration for Industry and Commerce of China, currently known as SAMR;|
|●||“SAMR” are to the State Administration for Market Regulation of China;|
|●||“SAPPRFT” are to State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of China, formerly the General Administration of Press and Publication of China and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television of China, and since March 2018 has been reformed and became the National Radio and Television Administration and the National Press and Publication Administration (National Copyright Administration);|
|●||“SCIO” are to the State Council Information Office of China;|
|●||“SEC” are to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission;|
|●||“SFO” are to the Securities and Futures Ordinance (Chapter 571 of the Laws of Hong Kong), as amended or supplemented from time to time;|
|●||“shareholder(s)” are to holder(s) of shares and, where the context requires, ADSs;|
|●||“share(s)” or “ordinary share(s)” are to ordinary share(s) in our capital with par value of US$0.0001 per share;|
|●||“SLGs” are to simulation games;|
|●||“STA” are to the State Taxation Administration of China;|
|●||“US$,” “dollars” and “U.S. dollars” are to the legal currency of the United States;|
|●||“U.S. Exchange Act” are to the United States Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder;|
|●||“U.S. GAAP” are to accounting principles generally accepted in the United States;|
|●||“variable interest entities,” “VIE” or “VIEs” are to our variable interest entities, or any one of them, the financial results of which are consolidated into our consolidated financial statements as if they were our subsidiaries;|
|●||“VR” are to virtual reality;|
|●||“we,” “us,” “our company” and “our” are to NetEase, Inc., where the context requires, its subsidiaries (which includes the consolidated affiliated entities) from time to time;|
|●||“Yanxuan” are to Hangzhou NetEase Yanxuan Trading Co., Ltd., a company established under PRC laws;|
|●||“Youdao” are to Youdao, Inc., a company incorporated under Cayman Islands laws, and listed on The New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “DAO” in October 2019 and a majority-controlled subsidiary of our company;|
|●||“Youdao Computer” are to Beijing NetEase Youdao Computer System Co., Ltd, a company established under PRC laws; and|
|●||“Youdao Information” are to NetEase Youdao Information Technology (Beijing) Co., Ltd., a company established under PRC laws.|
Trademarks and Service Marks
We own or have been licensed rights to trademarks, service marks and trade names for use in connection with the operation of our business. All other trademarks, service marks or trade names appearing in this annual report that are not identified as marks owned by us are the property of their respective owners.
Solely for convenience, some trademarks, service marks and trade names referred to in this annual report are listed without the ®, (TM) and (sm) symbols, but we will assert, to the fullest extent under applicable law, our applicable rights in these trademarks, service marks and trade names.
This annual report on Form 20-F contains statements of a forward-looking nature. These statements are made under the “safe harbor” provisions of the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. You can identify these forward-looking statements by terminology such as “will,” “expects,” “anticipates,” “future,” “intends,” “plans,” “believes,” “estimates” and similar statements. The accuracy of these statements may be impacted by a number of business risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those projected or anticipated, including risks related to:
|●||the risk that the online game market, including mobile games and PC games, will not continue to grow or that we will not be able to maintain our leading position in that market, which could occur if, for example, our new online games or expansion packs and other improvements to such existing games do not become as popular as management anticipates;|
|●||the risk that we will not be successful in our product diversification efforts, including the expansion of our mobile games into overseas markets, our entry into strategic licensing arrangements and the expansion of our streaming music offerings and online education services;|
|●||the risk of changes in Chinese government regulation of the online game, online education, online music, e-commerce or online advertising markets that limit future growth of our revenues or cause our revenues to decline;|
|●||the risk that we may not be able to continuously develop new and creative online services or that we will not be able to set, or follow in a timely manner, trends in the market;|
|●||the risk that we will not be able to control our expenses in future periods;|
|●||governmental uncertainties (including possible changes in the effective tax rates applicable to us and our subsidiaries and affiliates and our ability to receive and maintain approvals of the preferential tax treatments), general competition and price pressures in the marketplace;|
|●||the direct and indirect impact of COVID-19 on our business;|
|●||the risk that fluctuations in the value of the Renminbi with respect to other currencies could adversely affect our business and financial results; and|
|●||other risks outlined in our filings with the SEC.|
We do not undertake any obligation to update this forward-looking information, except as required under applicable law.
Item 1. Identity of Directors, Senior Management and Advisors
Item 2. Offer Statistics and Expected Timetable
Item 3. Key Information
B. Capitalization and Indebtedness
C. Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
D. Risk Factors
The following summarizes some, but not all, of the risks provided below. Please carefully consider all of the information discussed in this Item 3.D. “Risk Factors” in this annual report for a more thorough description of these and other risks.
Risks Related To Our Company And Our Industry
|●||Risks Related to Our Online Games Business|
|●||Risks relating to developing new online games and growing the popularity of existing online games|
|●||Risks relating to claims regarding our gaming contents resulting in negative publicity or a governmental response|
|●||Risks relating to international operations of our online game services|
|●||Risks relating to third-party platforms that distribute our mobile games and collect payments|
|●||Risks relating to maintaining our existing licenses of game or intellectual property|
|●||Risks relating to illegal game servers, acts of cheating by players and sales and purchases by players of our game accounts and virtual items through third-party auction websites|
|●||Risks Related to Our Other Businesses|
|●||Risks relating to user acceptance of Youdao, and market trend of integration of technology and learning, and the development and application of our technologies to support and expand Youdao’s product and services|
|●||Risks relating to obtaining legal and regulatory approvals, licenses or permits of our intelligent learning, music streaming, e-commerce, advertising and other innovative businesses|
|●||Risks relating to obtaining licenses for the music content necessary to provide our music streaming services, and our ability to attract and retain users|
|●||Risks relating to generating and maintaining significant advertising revenue|
|●||Risks relating to growing our e-commerce business|
|●||Risks Related to Our Operations Overall|
|●||Risks relating to competing successfully against new entrants and established industry competitors and keeping up with rapid changes in technologies and user behavior and innovating and exploring new areas of operations|
|●||Risks relating to gross profit margin and profitability affected by changes in our mix of revenues|
|●||Risks relating to credit risk on our accounts receivable|
|●||Risks relating to a prolonged slowdown in the PRC or global economy|
|●||Risks relating to compliance with laws and other obligations regarding data protection in China and outside of China|
|●||Risks relating to breaches of our information technology systems and system failure or performance inadequacy that causes interruptions of our services|
|●||Risks relating to our ability to retain our existing key employees and to add and retain senior officers to our management|
|●||Risks relating to natural disasters, widespread public health problems, other outbreaks and epidemics and other events|
Risks Related To Our Corporate Structure
|●||Risks relating to regulatory changes relating to the contractual arrangements with our VIEs and the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations|
|●||Risks relating to maintaining operational control of our VIEs through contractual arrangements|
|●||Risks relating to the shareholders who have significant influence over our company and our affiliated entities|
|●||Risks relating to our arrangements with our affiliated entities|
Risks Related To Doing Business In China
|●||Risks relating to China’s political and economic policies|
|●||Risks relating to compliance with and changes in PRC laws and regulations relating to telecommunications, internet, foreign investment, tax, online games, virtual asset property rights, consumer protection and financial transactions|
|●||Risks relating to claims and liabilities based on the information and content on our platforms|
|●||Risks relating to uncertainties with respect to the Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for the Internet Platform Economy Sector|
|●||Risks relating to our ability to protect our intellectual property from being infringed|
|●||Risks relating to currency exchange rates|
Risks Related To Our ADSs And Shares
|●||Risks relating to being delisted from the Nasdaq under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act if the PCAOB continues to be unable to inspect our independent registered public accounting firm for three consecutive years|
|●||Risks relating to the volatility of the trading price of our ADSs and shares|
|●||Risks relating to the different listing rules and regulations that apply to us|
|●||Risks relating to the limitation of the voting, inspection and other rights of holders of ADSs|
You should carefully consider the following risk factors in addition to the other information set forth in this annual report. If any of the following risks were actually to occur, our company’s business, financial condition and results of operations prospects could be adversely affected and the value of our ADSs and shares would likely suffer.
RISKS RELATED TO OUR COMPANY AND OUR INDUSTRY
Risks Related to Our Online Games Business
If we fail to develop and introduce popular, high-quality online games in a timely and successful manner, we will not be able to compete effectively and our ability to generate revenues will suffer.
We operate in a highly competitive, quickly changing environment, and player preferences for online games are difficult to predict. Our future success depends not only on the popularity of our existing online games but also on our ability to develop new high-quality online games and expand our game portfolio with games in a variety of genres that are in line with market trends and to successfully monetize such games. The development of successful new online games can be challenging and requires high levels of innovation, a deep understanding of the online game industry in China and the other markets where our games are published (including with respect to evolving business models), and an ability to anticipate and effectively respond to changing interests and preferences of game players in a timely manner. Moreover, each of our new games requires long periods of time for research and development and testing and also typically experiences a long ramp-up period as players become familiar with the game. If we are unsuccessful at developing and introducing new online games that are appealing to players with acceptable pricing and terms, our business, financial condition and results of operations will be negatively impacted because we would not be able to compete effectively and our ability to generate revenues would suffer.
In addition, new technologies in online game programming or operations could render our current online titles or games in development obsolete or unattractive to our players, thereby limiting our ability to recover development costs and potentially adversely affecting our future revenues and profitability. For example, the online game industry in China has been transitioning to mobile games, which have become increasingly popular as internet users in China rely more and more on mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, to access the internet. In response to this trend, we devote significant resources to developing games that can be operated on mobile devices. We have commercially launched over 100 in-house developed and licensed mobile games as of December 31, 2020 including the Fantasy Westward Journey mobile game, Westward Journey Online mobile game, Onmyoji, the mobile version of New Ghost, Invincible, Knives Out, All About Jianghu, Identity V, Life-After, Fantasy Westward Journey 3D and Sky. As the market for mobile games is rapidly evolving, with games in an expanding range of genres being introduced by us and our competitors, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to effectively compete in the mobile game market. We will also need to continue investing in the development of new technologies and bring new features and functionalities to our games, as well as enhance the user experience on our various platforms.
We are not able to predict if or when we will commercially launch additional new games and the pace at which our new games will penetrate the online game market in China or elsewhere, if at all. A number of factors, including technical difficulties, lack of sufficient game development capabilities, personnel and other resources and failure to obtain or delays in obtaining relevant governmental authorities’ approvals could result in delayed launching of our new games or the cancellation of the development of our pipeline games. Any delays in product releases or problems arising following the commercial release of one or more new online games such as programming errors, or “bugs”, could negatively impact our business and reputation and could cause our results of operations to be materially different from expectations. We believe that expectations of players regarding the quality, performance and integrity of our online games and services are high, and if any of these issues occurs, players may stop playing our online games and may be less likely to return to such games as often in the future, which may negatively impact our business.
If we are unable to continue to extend the life of existing online games that will encourage continued engagement with the games through the addition of new features or functionalities, our business may be negatively impacted.
To prolong the lifespan of our online games, we need to continually improve and update them on a timely basis with new features and functionalities that appeal to existing game players, attract new game players and improve overall player loyalty to such games. As a result, we have devoted, and expect to continue to devote, significant resources to maintain and raise the popularity of our online games through the release of new versions and/or expansion packs on a periodic basis. Developing successful updates and expansion packs for our existing games depends on our ability to anticipate market trends in the online game industry. We must also collect and analyze player behavior data and feedback from our online community in a timely manner and utilize this information to effectively incorporate features into our updates and expansion packs to improve the variety and attractiveness of our gameplay and any virtual items sold within the games.
In the course of operating online games, including the release of updates and expansion packs to existing games, certain game features may periodically be introduced, changed or removed. We cannot assure you that the introduction, change or removal of any game feature will be well received by our game players, who may decide to reduce or eliminate their playing time in response to any such introduction, change or removal. As a result, any introduction, change or removal of game features may adversely impact our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We are unable to predict whether these activities will be successful or adversely affect our profitability given the significant resources required. Moreover, because of the rapidly evolving nature of the online games market in China and elsewhere, we cannot estimate the total life cycle of any of our games, particularly our more recently launched mobile or PC games, and changes in players’ tastes or in the overall market for online games in China and elsewhere could alter the life cycle of each version or upgrade or even cause our players to stop playing our games altogether.
Any difficulties or delays in receiving approval from the relevant government authorities for our new games or new expansion packs for, or material changes to, our existing games could adversely affect such games’ popularity and profitability.
All games we release in China require government approvals. Moreover, even after certain games have received government approvals, certain expansion packs with material changes to the content and additions to the descriptions of those games may require further government approvals. We cannot be certain of the duration of any necessary approval processes, and any delay in receiving such government approvals may adversely affect the profitability and popularity of such games. In particular, game approvals in 2018 experienced certain delays, although the approvals resumed starting from the end of 2018. Since then, China’s game regulatory authority has officially published a few lists of newly approved game titles, including a number of our online games, and the approval processes for game titles appears to have returned to normal in 2019. We are not certain of the cause of the delays in 2018. In addition, no laws, regulations or official clarifications had been promulgated or published in relation to such delay and resumption of the assessment and pre-approval procedures, and it is unclear whether there will be any similar delays in the future. We cannot predict the effect any future delay in approvals may have on our results of operations.
According to several news reports in December 2018, PRC regulators established the Online Games Ethics Committee for the purpose of reviewing online games, and based on the assessment conducted by the Online Games Ethics Committee, PRC regulators reviewed and rejected nine of an initial batch of 20 games. As of the date of the filing of this annual report, no official laws and regulations had been promulgated or published in relation to the assessment criteria and procedures of the Online Games Ethics Committee. However, the formation of the Online Games Ethics Committee and its assessment criteria and procedures could impact our ability to launch and publish new games going forward, and require us to spend more time and costs in preparing and receiving the approvals necessary to launch our games. In addition, our games that have already received the relevant pre-approval may also be subject to further review by the Online Games Ethics Committee, and we may be required to modify the content of our games, which will further add to our regulatory compliance costs and expenses.
Reports of violence and crimes related to online games or any claims of our gaming contents to be, among others, obscene, superstitious, defamatory or impairing public interest, may result in negative publicity or a governmental response that could have a material and adverse impact on our business.
The media in China has reported incidents of violent crimes allegedly inspired by online games and theft of virtual items between users in online games. While we believe that such events were not related to our online games, it is possible that our reputation, as one of the leading online game providers in China, could be adversely affected by such behavior. In response to the media reports, in August 2005 the Chinese government enacted regulations to prohibit all minors under the age of 18 from playing online games in which players are allowed to kill other players, an activity that has been termed Player Kills, or PK. The Chinese government has also taken steps to limit online game playing time for all minors under the age of 18. See below “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—The Chinese government has taken steps to limit online game playing time for all minors and to otherwise control the content and operation of online games. These and any other new restrictions on online games may materially and adversely impact our business and results of operations.” If the Chinese government determines that online games have a negative impact on society, it may impose certain additional restrictions on the online game industry, which could in turn have a material and adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
In addition, the Chinese government and regulatory authorities prohibit any internet content that, among other things, violates PRC laws and regulations, endangers the national security of China, or is obscene, superstitious, violent or defamatory. When internet content providers and internet publishers, including online game operators, find that information falling within the above-mentioned scope is transmitted on their websites or is stored in their electronic bulletin service systems, they are required to terminate the transmission of such information or delete such information immediately, keep records, and report to relevant authorities. Failure to comply with these requirements could result in the revocation of our internet content provider, or ICP, license and other required licenses to operate our business. Internet content providers like us may also be held liable for prohibited information displayed on, retrieved from or linked to their websites. In addition, any claim of us failing to comply with these prohibitions may result in negative publicity and government actions, which in turn could have a material and adverse impact on our business.
Because our long-term growth strategy involves further expansion of our online game services to players outside of China, our business will be susceptible to risks associated with international operations.
An important component of our growth strategy involves the further expansion of our online game services and game player base internationally. In particular, we have launched our popular games Knives Out and Identity V in Japan, North America and other markets across the globe, and MARVEL Super War in several Southeast Asia markets. In the future, we may launch our online games in other international markets. The expansion of our online game services to markets outside of China will involve a variety of risks, including:
Our limited experience in operating our business outside of China increases the risk that any potential future expansion efforts that we may undertake will not be successful. If we invest substantial time and resources to expand our international operations and are unable to do so successfully and in a timely manner, our business and operating results will suffer.
We rely on third-party platforms to distribute our mobile games and collect payments. If we fail to maintain our relationships with these platforms, or if our revenue-sharing arrangements with these platforms change to our detriment, our mobile games business may be adversely affected.
In addition to our proprietary distribution channels, we publish our mobile games through the Apple iOS app store and other mobile application stores or platforms owned and operated by third parties. We rely on these third parties to promote and distribute our mobile games, record gross billings, maintain the security of their platforms to prevent fraudulent activities, provide certain user services and, in some instances, process payments from users. Further, we believe that our games benefit from the strong brand recognition, large user base and the stickiness of these mobile platforms.
We are subject to these third parties’ standard terms and conditions for application developers, which govern the promotion, distribution and operation of games and other applications on their platforms. If we violate, or if a platform provider believes that we have violated, its terms and conditions, the particular platform provider may discontinue or limit our access to that platform, which could harm our business. Our business could also be harmed if these platforms decline in popularity with users or modify their discovery mechanisms for games, the communication channels available to developers, their terms of service or other policies such as distribution fees, how they label free-to-play games or payment methods for in-app purchases. These platforms’ operators could also develop their own competitive offerings that could compete with our mobile games.
Furthermore, a few of these third-party platforms dominate the mobile application distribution channels. Any changes in the revenue-sharing arrangements that we have with any of the major third-party application distribution platforms may materially impact our revenue and profitability. Failure to renew any revenue-sharing agreement or any other material agreement with these major third-party distribution platforms may result in discontinued or limited access to such distribution platforms, which could harm our business. In addition, changes in the credit period or the settlement cycle terms of these third-party platforms may materially and adversely affect our cash flow. Disputes with third-party platforms, such as disputes relating to intellectual property rights, distribution fee arrangements and billing issues, may also arise from time to time and we cannot assure you that we will be able to resolve such disputes in a timely manner or at all. If our collaboration with a major third-party platform terminates for any reason, we may not be able to find a replacement in a timely manner or at all and the distribution of our games may be adversely affected. Any failure on our part to maintain good relationships with a sufficient number of popular platforms for the distribution of our games could cause the number of our game downloads and activations to decrease, which will have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our business, financial condition and results of operations depend in part on the overall growth of the online game industry in China and the other markets where our games are operated, the growth of which is subject to a number of factors that are beyond our control.
Our business, financial condition and results of operations depend in part on continued growth of the online game industry in China and other markets where our games are published, particularly the Asia-Pacific region and North America. The online game industry is affected by a number of factors that are beyond our control, including:
|●||the availability and popularity of other forms of interactive entertainment, particularly games on console systems which are more popular in North America, Europe and Japan, and other leisure activities;|
|●||evolving PC, smartphone and tablet technologies;|
|●||changes in game player demographics and public tastes and preferences;|
|●||any government restrictions on the playing of online games; and|
|●||the availability and popularity of alternative gameplay models such as cloud-gaming services.|
There is no assurance that the online game industry will continue to grow in future periods at any particular rate or at all.
We may not be successful in making our mobile games profitable, and our profits from mobile games may be relatively lower than the profits we have enjoyed historically for PC games.
We generate a large portion of revenue in our online games segment from our mobile games. 71.0%, 71.4% and 71.9% of our total net game revenues were generated from mobile games for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. In addition, 55.8%, 56.0% and 53.3% of our total net revenues were generated from mobile games for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively, and 22.8%, 22.4% and 20.8% of our total net revenues were generated from our PC games for the same periods, respectively. Our profits from our mobile games, even if the games are successful, are generally lower than our profits generated from PC games, because, in order to gain access to our games on mobile application stores, which are the primary distribution channel for our mobile games, we must enter into revenue-sharing arrangements that result in lower profit margins compared with those of our PC games. In addition, our mobile games tend to cover a wider variety of genres, some of which have historically had relatively lower profitability than that of our PC games. Furthermore, we are releasing more of our mobile games overseas, which may involve additional marketing and distribution costs and further impact the profitability of our mobile games.
We have devoted and expect to continue to devote a significant amount of resources to the development of our mobile games, but the relatively lower profit margins and other uncertainties make it difficult to predict whether we will continue to succeed in making our mobile game operations profitable. If we do not succeed in doing so, our business, financial condition and results of operations will be adversely affected.
A significant portion of our revenue from online game services is generated from the sale of virtual items within the games, and if we do not develop desirable virtual items and properly price them or if this revenue model ceases to be successful, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
All of our mobile games and many of our PC games currently utilize the item-based revenue model. Under this revenue model, our game players are able to play the games for free, but are charged for the purchase of virtual items in the games. We believe that this attracts a wider audience of players and increases the number of potential paying users. However, the success of this business model largely depends on whether we can attract game players to play our games and whether we can successfully encourage more players to purchase virtual items. Game players will only pay for virtual items if they are perceived to provide value and enhance their playing experience, and we must closely monitor and analyze in-game consumption patterns and player preferences to understand what items will be appealing and the appropriate price for them. Moreover, we must offer sufficient in-game purchasing opportunities to make our games profitable, while ensuring that the games are fun to play including for players who purchase no virtual items. We might fail to accurately identify and introduce new and popular virtual items or price them properly or may not be able to market our virtual items effectively. In addition, the item-based revenue model may not continue to be commercially successful and in the future we may need to change our revenue model to a time-based or other revenue model. Any change in revenue model could result in disruption of our game operations and a decrease in the number of our game players and thereby materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Providing a high level of customer service for our players is crucial to maintaining and growing the popularity of our online games, and any failure to do so could harm our reputation and our business.
We devote significant resources to provide high quality customer services to our game players 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through telephone and online support. We also maintain a team of highly trained “Game Masters” which supervise the activities within our games to provide assistance to players as needed and stop any cheating or unfair behavior to ensure the game has an atmosphere of fun and fair play. These activities are crucial to retaining our existing game players and attracting new players who expect a high-quality playing experience from our online games. In addition, our license agreements with third-party developers may also require us to provide specified minimum levels of customer support, and any breach of such obligations could result in the developer terminating our license agreement with them and other damages.
If we underestimate the popularity of certain games or an unexpected event occurs with respect to the operation of a game, we might receive increased complaints asserting that we were unprepared and did not provide adequate customer service. If we fail to maintain effective player support which meets the expectations of players, it could harm our reputation and the popularity of our online games, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We may not be able to maintain stable relationships with our existing game licensors, and we may experience difficulties in the operation of the online games licensed from them.
In addition to our internally-developed games, we also offer several mobile and PC games licensed from third-party developers, which accounted for 7.5%, 7.5% and 9.1% of our total net revenues in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. For example, starting in August 2008, Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. (together with its affiliated companies, referred to as Blizzard in this annual report) agreed to license certain online games developed by it to Shanghai EaseNet Network Technology Co., Ltd., or Shanghai EaseNet, for operation in the PRC. Shanghai EaseNet is a PRC company owned by William Lei Ding, our Chief Executive Officer, director and major shareholder, and has contractual arrangements with us and with the joint venture established between Blizzard and us. In January 2019, Shanghai EaseNet and Blizzard extended the term of the existing game licenses by Blizzard to Shanghai EaseNet to January 2023. These games include World of Warcraft®, StarCraft® II, Diablo® III, Hearthstone®, Heroes of the Storm® and Overwatch®, all of which have been commercially launched. We are also currently co-developing Diablo ImmortalTM, a mobile massively multiplayer online action role-playing game, or MMO action-RPG, with Blizzard. In addition to our relationship with Blizzard, in May 2016, we entered into a five-year exclusive agreement with Mojang AB, a subsidiary of Microsoft, pursuant to which Microsoft and Mojang agreed to license the operation of Minecraft in the PRC to us until 2022. In May 2019, we extended the term of the Minecraft license for an additional year to August 2023. If we are unable to maintain stable relationships with our existing game licensors, or if any of our licensors establishes similar or more favorable relationships with our competitors in violation of its contractual arrangements with us or otherwise, we may not be able to ensure the smooth operation of these licensed online games, and our licensors could terminate or fail to renew the license agreements with us, which could harm our operating results and business.
Moreover, the success of our arrangements with our game licensors depends on the popularity of the games licensed to us by them in the Chinese market, which is affected by, among other things, the frequency and success of updates and expansion packs to those games developed by them over which we have no control. Any failure of such licensors to provide game updates, enhancements and new versions in a timely manner and that are appealing to game players, provide assistance that enables us to effectively promote the games, or otherwise fulfill their obligations under our license agreements could adversely affect the game-playing experience of our game players, damage our reputation, or shorten the life-spans of those games, any of which could result in the loss of game players, acceleration of our amortization of the license fees we have paid for those games, or a decrease in or elimination of our revenues from those games.
In addition, certain events may limit our licensors’ ability to develop or license online games, such as claims by third parties that their online games infringe such third parties’ intellectual property rights or their inability to acquire or maintain licenses to use another party’s intellectual property in their online games. In the case of such events, our licensors may be unable to continue licensing online games to us or to continue participating in any joint venture with us, regardless of the stability of our relationship with them.
We also cannot be certain that these licensed online games will be viewed by the regulatory authorities as complying with content restrictions, will be attractive to users or will be able to compete with games operated by our competitors. We may not be able to fully recover the costs associated with licensing these online games if the games are not popular among users in the PRC, and any difficulties in the operation of these licensed games could harm our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We receive relatively lower profits from the operation of online games that we license from third-party developers, and we are subject to certain financial obligations in connection with such licenses.
Our revenue sharing arrangements for games that we license from third-party developers provide us with relatively less profit than games that we develop in-house. Moreover, to secure the rights to games from such developers, we are required, as licensee of the games, to pay them royalties for the games over the terms of the licenses, to make minimum marketing expenditure commitments, or to provide funds for hardware to operate the games. See Item 4.B. “Business Overview—Our Services—Online Game Services—Our Games—Our Game Library—Licensed Games.” for details about these arrangements. In some cases, we may not be able to recoup our investments in such games. We often must make such commitments and investments without knowing whether the games we are licensing will be successful and generate sufficient revenues to enable us to recoup our costs or for the games to be profitable.
Future alliances may expose us to potential risks, including those associated with the assimilation of new operation technologies and personnel, unforeseen or hidden liabilities, and potential business disputes with our partners, among others.
Strategic alliances with key players in the online game industry and other related industry sectors form part of our strategy to expand our portfolio of online games. In some cases, such alliances may involve our investment into strategic partners, as we have done with a number of game development studios in various countries. However, our ability to grow through future alliances, including through joint ventures and direct investments, will depend on the availability of suitable partners at reasonable terms, our ability to compete effectively to attract these partners, the availability of financing to complete larger joint ventures and investments, and our ability to obtain any required governmental approvals. Further, the benefits of an alliance may take considerable time to develop, and we cannot be certain that any particular alliance will produce its intended benefits.
Future alliances could also expose us to potential risks, including risks associated with the assimilation of new operation technologies and personnel, unforeseen or hidden liabilities, the inability to generate sufficient revenue to offset the costs and expenses of alliances and potential loss of, or harm to, our relationships with employees, customers, licensors and other suppliers as a result of integration of new businesses. Further, we may not be able to maintain a satisfactory relationship with our partners, which could adversely affect our business and results of operations. We have relatively limited experience in identifying, financing or completing strategic alliances compared with some of our competitors. Such transactions and the subsequent integration process would require significant attention from our management. The diversion of our management’s attention and any difficulties encountered with respect to the alliances or in the process of integration could have an adverse effect on our ability to manage our business.
Termination of our material intellectual property licenses could have a material adverse effect on our business.
Certain of our online games rely on intellectual property license agreements which give us the right to use certain names, characters, logos or storylines in connection with online games developed by us. For example, we have a partnership with Marvel Entertainment to create mobile games based on Marvel characters and storylines and a partnership with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment to create a mobile game based on characters and storylines inspired by the Wizarding World. If we were to breach any material term of these license agreements, the licensor could terminate the agreement. If the licensor were to terminate our rights to use any such intellectual property for this reason or any other reason, or if a licensor decides not to renew a license agreement upon the expiration of the license term, the loss of such rights could have a material adverse effect on our business. In addition, it can be difficult to identify a suitable intellectual property that can be adapted for use in online games and is recognizable to players in China and elsewhere, and we face significant competition for the rights to such intellectual property from other online game companies. Obtaining license rights, and particularly exclusive license rights, to use third-party intellectual property for use in online games can involve significant expense. In addition, we have previously obtained, and intend to continue to seek to obtain, license rights for works from certain intellectual property owners based outside of China, and our ability to utilize their intellectual property in China may be adversely affected by the scrutiny of such arrangements by the relevant Chinese authorities.
Even if we obtain license rights for such intellectual property, we cannot assure you that games that we develop utilizing it will be popular and commercially successful and that we will be able to recoup the amounts we pay for the license rights. Moreover, after the expiration of the terms of our license agreements with the relevant copyright holders, we may not be able to renew the agreements with commercial terms that are favorable to us, if at all. Our inability to renew such agreements could force us to discontinue the related online games and have a significant adverse impact on our online game operations and revenues.
Our new games may attract game players away from our existing games, which may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our new online games, including mobile games and PC games, may attract game players away from our existing games and shrink the player base of our existing online games, which could in turn make those existing games less attractive to other game players, resulting in decreased revenues from our existing games. Players of our existing games may also spend less money to purchase time or virtual items in our new games than they would have spent if they had continued playing our existing games. In addition, our game players may migrate from our existing games with a higher profit margin to new games with a lower profit margin. The occurrence of any of the foregoing could have a material and adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Illegal game servers and acts of cheating by players of online games could harm our business and reputation and materially and adversely affect our results of operations.
Several of our competitors have reported in past years that certain third parties have misappropriated the source codes of their games and set up illegal game servers and let their customers play such games on illegal servers without paying for the game playing time. While we already have in place numerous internal control measures to protect the source codes of our games from being stolen and to address illegal server usage and, to date, our games have not to our knowledge experienced such usage, our preventive measures may not be effective. The misappropriation of our game server installation software and installation of illegal game servers could harm our business and reputation and materially and adversely affect our results of operations.
In addition, acts of cheating by players of online games could lessen the popularity of our online games and adversely affect our reputation and our results of operations. There have been a number of incidents in previous years where users, through a variety of methods, were able to modify the rules of our online games. Although these users did not gain unauthorized access to our systems, they were able to modify the rules of our online games during gameplay in a manner that allowed them to cheat and disadvantage our other online game users, which often has the effect of causing players to stop using the game and shortening the game’s lifecycle. While we have taken a number of steps to deter our users from engaging in cheating when playing our online games, we cannot assure you that we or the third parties from whom we license some of our online games will be successful or timely in taking corrective steps necessary to prevent users from modifying the rules of our online games.
If we suspect a player of installing cheating programs on our online games, or of engaging in other types of unauthorized activities, we may freeze that player’s game account or even ban the player from logging on to our games and other media. Such activities to regulate the behavior of our users are essential to maintaining a fair playing environment for our users. However, if any of our regulatory activities are found to be wrongly implemented, our users may institute legal proceedings against us for damages or claims. Our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected as a result.
Our online games will be less likely to be successful if we cannot adopt and implement innovative and effective marketing strategies to attract attention to our games from game players in our targeted demographic groups.
A relatively large number of mobile and PC games are typically available at any given time in the markets in which we launch and operate our online games, and such games compete for attention from the same game player population that we target. Our ability to successfully promote and monetize our online games will depend on our ability to adopt and effectively implement innovative marketing strategies, and particularly marketing through online media such as our 163.com website, social media sites, game live streaming sites and other online game forums, and our ability to cross-market new games to players of our current online games. We also engage in a wide range of other promotional activities such as hosting game tournaments and a forum that provides an online community for elite game players, key opinion leaders and masters of the online game industry to interact. If we fail to adopt and implement such marketing and cross-marketing strategies, or if the marketing strategies of our competitors are more innovative and effective than ours, our online games will be less likely to be successful and as a result we may not be able to achieve an acceptable level of revenue from those games.
Some of our players make sales and purchases of our game accounts and virtual items through third-party auction websites, which may have a negative effect on our net revenues.
Some of our players make sales and purchases of our game accounts and virtual items through unauthorized third-party auction websites in exchange for real money, which we do not and are unable to track or monitor. We do not generate any net revenues from these transactions. Accordingly, purchases and sales of our game accounts or virtual items on third-party websites could lead to decreased sales by us and also put downward pressure on the prices that we charge players for our virtual items and services, all of which could result in lower revenues generated for us by our games. New players may decide not to play our games as a result of any rule changes we might implement to restrict the players’ ability to trade in game accounts or virtual items, which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In addition, such trading activities could run afoul of PRC regulations on virtual currency and subject traders and us to potential liability. See “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—Restrictions on virtual currency may adversely affect our online game revenues.”
Risks Related to Our Other Businesses
The success and future growth of our Youdao business will be affected by the user acceptance and market trend of integration of technology and learning.
We offer online courses and a number of other learning services and learning products via our majority-controlled subsidiary, Youdao. Youdao operates in the intelligent learning industry, and its business model features integrating technology closely with learning to provide a more efficient and engaging learning experience. Intelligent learning remains a relatively new concept in China, and there are limited proven methods to project user demand or preference or available industry standards. Even with the proliferation of internet and mobile devices in China, we believe that some of Youdao’s target students may still be inclined to choose traditional face-to-face courses over online courses as they find the former more intimate and reliable. We cannot assure you that Youdao’s products and services will continue to be attractive to our users in the future. If Youdao’s offering of learning services and learning products becomes less appealing to our users, the financial condition and results of operations of our Youdao business could be materially and adversely affected.
If we fail to develop and apply our technologies to support and expand Youdao’s product and service offerings or if we fail to timely respond to the rapid changes in industry trends and user preferences, our Youdao business may be materially and adversely affected.
Over the years, we have developed a number of core technologies to support Youdao’s comprehensive suite of products and services. We also rely on technologies to build and maintain Youdao’s information technology infrastructure. The intelligent learning industry is subject to rapid technological changes and innovations and is affected by unpredictable product lifecycles and user preferences. Our technologies may become obsolete or insufficient, and we may have difficulties in following and adapting to technological changes in the intelligent learning industry in a timely and cost-effective manner. New technologies and solutions developed and introduced by Youdao’s competitors could render its offerings less attractive or obsolete thus materially affecting Youdao’s business and prospects. In addition, our substantial investments in Youdao’s technology may not produce expected results. If we fail to continue to develop, innovate and utilize our technologies to support and expand Youdao’s product and service offerings or if our competitors develop or apply more advanced technologies, the financial condition and results of operations of our Youdao business could be materially and adversely affected.
Our intelligent learning, music streaming, e-commerce, advertising and other innovative businesses are subject to a broad range of laws and regulations. Any lack of requisite approvals, licenses or permits applicable to these businesses or any failure to comply with applicable laws or regulations may have a material and adverse impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our intelligent learning, music streaming, e-commerce, advertising and other innovative businesses are subject to a broad range of laws and regulations, and future laws and regulations may impose additional requirements and other obligations.
For example, the private education industry in the PRC is subject to various regulations, and certain aspects of Youdao’s business operations may be deemed not to be in full compliance with them. Among other things, a “private school” is required to obtain approval or a permit from the relevant government authorities in China. However, it remains unclear in practice as to whether and how online education service providers, in particular those that provide, among other things, after-school training services to primary and secondary school students, need to comply with the operating permit requirement under applicable PRC law. In addition, various PRC regulations require that Youdao make certain filings with the relevant provincial regulatory authorities for education and to comply with certain regulatory requirements for its intelligent learning business. Certain aspects of Youdao’s business may be deemed to not be in full compliance with such applicable regulatory requirements. The relevant government authorities may, from time to time, conduct inspections on compliance with such regulations. We have been making and will continue to make efforts to comply with such regulations as well as requirements from the relevant government authorities during such inspections. As of the date of this annual report, we have completed or submitted applications for the filings required by such applicable regulations for most of the mobile apps Youdao operates. We are also preparing the required filings for Youdao’s newly launched and other learning apps. We cannot assure you, however, that we will complete all such filings and comply with other regulatory requirements in a timely manner, or at all. It is also uncertain whether and how the PRC government would promulgate additional laws, regulations and guidance regarding the online private education industry, and there is no assurance that we can comply with any such newly promulgated laws, regulations and guidance in a timely manner. Moreover, Youdao’s business may be required to apply for and obtain additional licenses, permits or recordation or expand the scope of the licenses already obtained, given the significant uncertainties of the interpretation and implementation of certain regulatory requirements applicable to online education business.
Our e-commerce business is also subject to numerous PRC laws and regulations that regulate retailers generally or govern online retailers specifically. See below “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—We are subject to consumer protection laws that could require us to modify our current business practices and incur increased costs.” We may also be required to obtain licenses and permits from different regulatory authorities in order to sell certain categories of products on our e-commerce platform. In addition, the online activities of all of these businesses are subject to PRC regulations governing foreign ownership of companies in the internet industry and the licensing requirements pertaining to them, as well as internet access and the distribution of online content including music, music videos, online educational content and other forms of content over the internet. See below “—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure” and “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China.”
If the PRC governmental authorities determine that we are not in compliance with all the requirements under applicable laws and regulations, we may be subject to fines and/or other sanctions, and our operations could be disrupted. As these industries are evolving rapidly in China, it is also uncertain whether and how the PRC government would promulgate additional laws and regulations regarding our intelligent learning, music streaming, e-commerce, advertising and other innovative businesses. If the PRC government requires additional licenses or permits or provides more strict supervision requirements in the future in order for us to conduct these businesses, there is no guarantee that we would be able to obtain such licenses or permits or meet all the supervision requirements in a timely manner, or at all. Failure to maintain or regain compliance may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our controlling interest in Youdao may be diluted if Youdao raises additional capital with the issuance and sale of additional equity in the future.
Youdao, our majority-controlled subsidiary listed on the New York Stock Exchange, may need additional capital in the future to fund its continued operations and support its business growth. As Youdao will continue to invest heavily in improving technologies, expanding its marketing efforts, hiring qualified faculty and R&D, personnel and offering additional products, services and contents, Youdao may not generate sufficient revenue to offset such expenses. In the future, should Youdao require additional liquidity and capital resources to fund its business and operations, Youdao may need to obtain additional financing, including issuing and selling additional equity or equity-linked securities, or issuing additional equity awards to incentivize its employees, which would dilute our interest in Youdao.
We may be unable to obtain licenses for the music content necessary to provide our music streaming services or to obtain such licenses at an economically viable cost.
Our ability to offer online music streaming services through our music streaming platform, NetEase Cloud Music, depends upon maintaining commercially viable licenses or arrangements with copyright owners for music content which is popular in China. The majority of our agreements with copyright owners are usually non-exclusive, while some of our competitors have been entering into exclusive arrangements for music distribution rights in China. Therefore, our competitors offer certain music content that we do not have and we may lose users if those music content caters to their preferences. The competition in China for exclusive or non-exclusive licenses to distribute music content is fierce. As a result, certain owners of music content or exclusive rights to distribute music content have increased the fees they charge us for their content or distribution rights. This trend could increase our costs and operating expenses and could adversely affect our ability to obtain music content at an economically viable cost.
Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the licenses or arrangements we have now will be renewed in the future. If we are unable to secure and maintain the licenses or similar arrangements that we desire, the size and quality of our music catalog offered by our music streaming platform and the financial condition and results of operations of this business may be materially and adversely affected, which in turn could negatively impact the attractiveness of our brand name and online services in general to our users.
If we fail to anticipate user preferences to provide online music streaming content catering to user demands, or maintain the activeness of our user community, our ability to attract and retain users may be materially and adversely affected.
The success of our music streaming business relies on our ability to anticipate changes in user preferences and industry dynamics, and respond to such changes in a timely, appropriate and cost-effective manner. Music that was once popular with our users may become less attractive if user preferences evolve. If we fail to cater to the tastes and preferences of our users, or fail to deliver superior user experiences, we may suffer from reduced user traffic and engagement, and the financial condition and results of operations of this business may be materially and adversely affected.
We are also self-producing music content, and we plan to continue investing in our self-produced music, but we cannot guarantee that our self-produced music caters to the preferences and tastes of our users, failure of which could negatively impact our financial condition and results of operations.
We expect that a portion of our future revenues will continue to come from our advertising services, but we may not be able to compete effectively in this market because it is evolving and intensely competitive, in which case our ability to generate and maintain advertising revenue in the future could be adversely affected.
Although we anticipate that the revenues generated by our online games will continue to constitute the major portion of our future revenues, we believe that we will continue to rely on advertising as a source of revenue for the foreseeable future. The popularity of online advertising in China has been growing quickly in recent years, and many of our current and potential advertisers have gained experience with using the internet as an advertising medium. Our ability to generate and maintain significant advertising revenue will depend on a number of factors, many of which are beyond our control, including:
|●||macroeconomic conditions and the general level of advertiser spending;|
|●||the development of a large base of users possessing demographic characteristics attractive to advertisers;|
|●||competition with other major and emerging online advertising platforms;|
|●||the development of software that blocks internet advertisements before they appear on a user’s screen;|
|●||downward pressure on online advertising prices; and|
|●||the effectiveness of our advertising delivery and tracking system.|
Changes in government policy could also restrict or curtail our online advertising services.
Our e-commerce business is subject to challenges and risks, which may have a negative impact on our financial performance.
We established our e-commerce platform, Yanxuan, in April 2016. Yanxuan primarily sells our private label products, including electronic products, food, apparel, homeware, kitchenware and other general merchandise which we mainly source directly from original design manufacturers in China. This business exposes us to challenges and risks that could negatively impact our financial performance. We have incurred significant expenses on a variety of different marketing and brand promotion efforts designed to enhance the recognition of our Yanxuan platform and increase sales of our products on such platform. However, our brand promotion and marketing activities may not be well received by our customers and may not result in the levels of product sales that we anticipate.
We face intense competition from other e-commerce players, private label manufacturers and retailers. The e-commerce industry in China is subject to rapid market change, the introduction of new business models, and the entry of new and well-funded competitors. If we are unable to compete effectively, our e-commerce business’s financial condition and results of operations would be materially and adversely affected. To effectively compete with our competitors in the e-commerce industry, we are also required to adjust and refine our marketing approaches or to introduce new marketing approaches because the marketing approaches and tools in the consumer products market in China are constantly evolving. If we are unable to design marketing activities that will appeal to the Chinese consumers or market in a cost-effective manner, revenues from our e-commerce business will be adversely affected. In addition, our e-commerce business requires us to manage a large volume of inventory effectively and requires a large amount of working capital. If we fail to manage our inventory effectively, we may be subject to a heightened risk of inventory obsolescence, a decline in inventory values, and significant inventory write-downs or write-offs, which may materially and adversely affect our e-commerce business and financial position.
Moreover, the future growth of our e-commerce business depends on our ability to continue to attract new customers as well as new purchases from existing customers. Constantly changing consumer preferences have affected and will continue to affect the online retail industry. We must stay abreast of emerging consumer preferences and anticipate product trends that will appeal to existing and potential customers. If we are unable to offer products that attract new customers and new purchases from existing customers, our e-commerce business may be materially and adversely affected.
Furthermore, our profit margin from the e-commerce business, even if the business is successful, is likely to be relatively lower than our profit margin from certain of our other businesses, such as our online game business and advertising business. If we cannot successfully address challenges specific to the e-commerce business and compete effectively, we may not be able to recover the costs of our investments, and our future results of operations and growth prospects may be materially and adversely affected.
Risks Related to Our Operations Overall
We may be unable to compete successfully against new entrants and established industry competitors.
The Chinese market for internet content and services is intensely competitive and rapidly changing. Our competition primarily comes from global online game developers and operators, such as Tencent, established online and offline education service providers in China, as well as leading digital media and entertainment providers. Some of our current and potential competitors are much larger than we are, and currently offer, and could further develop or acquire, content and services that compete with us. We mainly compete to:
|●||attract, engage and retain users based on the design, quality, popularity and efficacy of our content offerings, the overall user experience of our products and services, as well as the effectiveness of our marketing activities;|
|●||attract and retain motivated and capable talent, including engineers, game designers, product developers and creative professionals to build compelling content, tools and functions; and|
|●||win collaboration relationships with game studios and content owners based on our level of expertise in systematically developing original games, delivering a compelling user experience through operational know-how and customizing established game titles for rapid expansion into overseas markets.|
Our ability to compete depends on a number of other factors as well, some of which may be beyond our control, including alliances, acquisitions or consolidations within our industries that may result in stronger competitors, and changes in the regulatory environment in the markets we operate. Existing and new competitors may leverage their established platforms or market positions, or introduce innovative business models, to launch highly-engaging content, products or services that may attract a large user base and achieve rapid growth, which may materially and adversely affect our business expansion and results of operations. We increasingly face competition from domestic and international players operating in our markets. Because many of our existing competitors as well as a number of potential competitors have longer operating histories in the internet market, greater name and brand recognition, better connections with the Chinese government, larger customer bases and databases and significantly greater financial, technical and marketing resources than we have, we cannot assure you that we will be able to compete successfully against our current or future competitors or that competition will not have a material and adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
If we fail to keep up with rapid changes in technologies and user behavior, our future success may be adversely affected.
Our future success will depend on our ability to respond to rapidly changing technologies, adapt our products and services to evolving industry standards and improve the performance and reliability of our products and services. Our failure to adapt to such changes could harm our business. In addition, changes in user behavior resulting from technological developments may also adversely affect us. For example, the number of people accessing the internet through mobile devices, including mobile phones, tablets and other hand-held devices, has increased in recent years, and we expect this trend to continue while 4G, 5G and more advanced mobile communications technologies are broadly implemented. If we fail to develop products and technologies that are compatible with all mobile devices, or if the products and services we develop are not widely accepted and used by users of various mobile devices, we may not be able to penetrate the mobile markets. In addition, the widespread adoption of new internet, networking or telecommunications technologies or other technological changes could require substantial expenditures to modify or integrate our products, services or infrastructure. If we fail to keep up with rapid technological changes to remain competitive, our future success may be adversely affected.
We cannot guarantee that our efforts to innovate and explore new areas of operations would be successful or bring positive financial impact to us.
In addition to our existing businesses, we continue to invest significant resources in innovation and exploring new products, services and technologies to cater to the rapidly changing customer demands and trends in the internet industry. However, the success of new products and services depends on a number of factors including the quality of our products or services, the acceptance by the targeted customers and our assessment of market demands and trends.
Furthermore, our competitors are constantly developing innovations, on both mobile devices and personal computers, to enhance users’ online experience in areas that we currently operate or areas that we wish to expand our operations into. As a result, our efforts to continually innovate and explore new growth strategies and introduce new products and services to attract more customers to our services, may not be successful, and we cannot guarantee that our innovation efforts could bring positive financial impact to us.
Our gross profit margin and profitability may be affected by changes in our mix of revenues.
Our gross profit may fluctuate from period to period due to a shifting mix of services and products we sell due to changes in the relative demand for them in the marketplace. Shifts in the mix of our revenue contributed by our different business lines (or by shifts in the sales of individual services or products within such businesses) can impact our gross profit because they generally produce a different level of gross margin. For example, in general our Youdao and innovative businesses and others segments have had lower gross profit margins compared to our online game services segment. These individual gross margins in turn can be impacted in any given period by factors such as competition, the implementation of new regulatory requirements and other factors. If the mix of services and products sold shifts from higher margin business lines to lower margin lines as a result of differing growth rates among such lines (or to lower margin services and products within business lines), our overall gross profit margin and profitability may be adversely affected.
We are exposed to credit risk on our accounts receivable, which may be heightened during periods of uncertain economic conditions.
Our outstanding accounts receivable are not covered by collateral or credit insurance. While we have procedures to monitor and limit exposure to credit risk on our accounts receivable, which risk is heightened during periods of uncertain economic conditions, there can be no assurance such procedures will effectively limit our credit risk and enable us to avoid losses, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and operating results.
A prolonged slowdown in the PRC or global economy may materially and adversely affect our results of operations, financial condition, prospects and future expansion plans.
We derive a substantial portion of our revenue from China. As a result, our revenue and net income are impacted to a significant extent by economic conditions in China and globally, as well as economic conditions specific to online and mobile internet usage and advertising. The global economy, markets and levels of consumer spending are influenced by many factors beyond our control, including consumer perception of current and future economic conditions, political uncertainty, levels of employment, inflation or deflation, real disposable income, interest rates, taxation and currency exchange rates.
The rate of economic growth in the PRC has been experiencing a slowdown, and China’s gross domestic product increased by 2.3% in 2020, the lowest annual growth rate since 1976, primarily as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, any future escalation of the ongoing trade war between the United States and China or ongoing impact of the coronavirus may negatively impact the growth in both the Chinese economy and the global economy as a whole. Although the PRC government has implemented a number of measures to address the slowdown, we cannot be certain that these measures will be successful. Any continuing or worsening slowdown could significantly reduce domestic commerce in China, including through the internet generally and within our ecosystem. An economic downturn, whether actual or perceived, a further decrease in economic growth rates or an otherwise uncertain economic outlook in China or any other market in which we may operate could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We are subject to a variety of laws and other obligations regarding data protection in China, and our failure to comply with any of them could result in proceedings against us by governmental entities or others and harm our public image and reputation, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
We are subject to laws in China relating to the collection, use, sharing, retention, security and transfer of confidential and private information, such as personal information and other data. These laws apply not only to third-party transactions, but also to transfers of information between our company and our subsidiaries and VIEs and among our company, our subsidiaries, VIEs and other parties with which we have commercial relations. These laws are continuing to develop, and the PRC government may adopt other rules and restrictions in the future. Non-compliance could result in penalties or other significant legal liabilities.
According to the Cyber Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, or Cyber Security Law, which was promulgated by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on November 7, 2016, and took effect on June 1, 2017, we, as a network operator, are obligated to provide technical assistance and support to public security and national security authorities in order to protect national security or assist with criminal investigations. In addition, the Cyber Security Law provides that personal information and important data collected and generated by an operator of critical information infrastructure in the course of its operations in the PRC must be stored in the PRC. We have undertaken significant measures in an effort to ensure compliance with the Cyber Security Law. In April 2020, the CAC and several other government authorities jointly promulgated the Measures for Cybersecurity Censorship, or the Censorship Measures, which took effect on June 1, 2020. In accordance with the Censorship Measures, any purchase of network products and services by critical information infrastructure operators, which affects or may affect state security, shall be subject to cybersecurity censorship fields. Since the measures were recently promulgated, there exists uncertainties with respect to their interpretation and implementation.
In addition, the SAMR and Standardization Administration jointly issued the Standard of Information Security Technology—Personal Information Security Specification (2020 edition), which took effect on October 2020. Pursuant to these standard, any entity or person who has the authority or right to determine the purposes for and methods of using or processing personal information are considered as a personal information controller. Such personal information controller is required to collect information in accordance with applicable laws, and except in certain specific events that are expressly exempted in the standard, prior to collecting such data, the information provider’s consent is required. Furthermore, the CAC issued the Provisions on the Cyber Protection of Children’s Personal Information, or the Children’s Provisions, which took effect on October 1, 2019. According to the Children’s Provisions, no organization or individual is allowed to produce, release or disseminate information that infringes upon the personal information security of children under 14. Network operators collecting, storing, using, transferring or disclosing children’s personal information are required to enact special protections for such information. We generally comply with industry standards and have established privacy policies to ensure such compliance. However, compliance with any additional laws could be expensive, and may place restrictions on the conduct of our business and the manner in which we interact with our customers. Any failure to comply with applicable regulations could also result in notification for rectification, confiscation of illegal earnings, fines or other penalties and legal liabilities against us. For example, we may receive notification for rectification regarding our products from competent governmental authorities, and we will take steps to rectify the situation accordingly.
Recently, there has been an increased focus on ensuring that mobile apps comply with privacy regulations. The Announcement of Launching Special Crackdown Against Illegal Collection and Use of Personal Information by Apps was issued with effect on January 23, 2019 and commenced a coordinated effort among the CAC, MIIT, the Ministry of Public Security and the SAMR to combat the illegal collection and use of personal information by mobile apps throughout the PRC. On October 31, 2019, the MIIT issued the Notice on the Special Rectification of Apps Infringing Users’ Rights and Interests, pursuant to which app providers were required to promptly rectify issues the MIIT designated as infringing app users’ rights such as collecting personal information in violation of PRC regulations and setting obstacles for user account deactivation. In July 2020, MIIT issued the Notice on Carrying out Special Rectification Actions in Depth against the Infringement upon Users’ Rights and Interests by Apps, to rectify the following problems: (i) illegal collection and use of personal information of users by the APP and the Software Development Kit (“SDK”); (ii) conduct of setting up obstacles and frequently harassing users; (iii) cheating and misleading users; and (iv) inadequate implementation of application distribution platforms’ responsibilities. In accordance with the Notice, by the end of August 2020, the management system for the national APP technical testing platform shall be put into use, and by December 10, 2020, the testing of 400,000 mainstream APPs shall be completed. If any of our mobile apps are not in compliance with these regulations, we could be subject to potentially serious penalties, including revocation of our business licenses and permits.
Our privacy policies and practices concerning the use and disclosure of data are posted on the NetEase websites and other online and mobile platforms. Any failure by us, our business partners or other parties with whom we do business to comply with its posted privacy policies or with other applicable privacy-related or data protection laws and regulations could result in proceedings against us by governmental entities or others, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. In addition, any negative publicity on our website or platform’s safety or privacy protection mechanism and policy could harm our public image and reputation and have a material and adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
We may be subject to a variety of laws and other obligations regarding data protection in jurisdictions outside of China, and our failure to comply with any of them could result in proceedings against us by governmental entities or others and harm our public image and reputation, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
We may be subject to similar data protection laws and other obligations in jurisdictions outside of China where we operate, including the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”), the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (“CCPA”) and the California Privacy Rights and Enforcement Act (“CPRA”).
The GDPR applies directly in all European Union member states from May 25, 2018 and applies to companies with an establishment in the European Economic Area, or EEA, and to certain other companies not in the EEA that offer or provide goods or services to individuals located in the EEA or monitor individuals located in the EEA. The GDPR implements stringent operational requirements for controllers and processors of personal data, including, for example, expanded disclosures on how personal data is to be used, limitations on retention of information and implementation of appropriate safeguards for transfer of personal data out of the EEA, increased cyber security requirements, mandatory data breach notification requirements and higher standards for controllers to demonstrate that they have obtained a valid legal basis for certain data processing activities. Failure to comply with European Union laws and other laws relating to the security of personal data may result in significant fines, such as those applicable under the GDPR which can amount up to EUR20,000,000 or up to 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, if greater, and other administrative penalties including criminal liability.
California has also recently enacted legislation affording consumers expanded privacy protections, including the CCPA, that went into effect as of January 1, 2020. For example, the CCPA gives California residents (including employees, though only in limited circumstances until January 1, 2023), expanded rights to transparency (e.g., detailed information about how personal information is collected, used, and shared) regarding, access to, and deletion of their personal information, and a right to opt out of the sharing of certain personal information. The California Attorney General issued implementing regulations that also add requirements on businesses. The CCPA provides for civil penalties for violations enforced by the California Attorney General, as well as a private right of action for certain data breaches that may increase data breach litigation and liability, in light of the potential for statutory damages. Additionally, a new privacy law, the CPRA was approved by California voters in the November 3, 2020 election. The CPRA significantly modifies the CCPA, potentially resulting in further uncertainty and requiring us to incur additional costs and expenses in efforts to comply. The passing of the CCPA, CPRA, and other laws globally is prompting similar legislative developments in other states in the United States, which could create the potential for a patchwork of overlapping but different state laws, and is inspiring federal legislation, even if unlikely to pass.
Complying with emerging and changing requirements may cause us to incur substantial costs or require us to change our business practices. Non-compliance could result in penalties or significant legal liability, including for example, penalties calculated as a percentage of global revenue under the GDPR.
We may be subject to breaches of our information technology systems, including security breaches and improper access to or disclosure of our data or user data, which could materially adversely affect our reputation and our results of operations and financial position and expose us to liability claims.
Any compromise of the security of our information technology systems could materially adversely affect the operations of NetEase’s websites and other online and mobile platforms, and result in improper disclosure of personal information and other data. We transmit and store over our systems confidential and private information of our users, such as personal information, including names, user IDs and passwords, and payment or transaction related information. For example, we rely on our information technology systems to record and monitor the purchase and consumption of virtual items by our game players, which constitute a significant portion of the revenue generated from our online games. In addition, in relation to our e-commerce business, almost all of the orders and some of the payments for products we offer are made through our websites and our mobile applications, and some online payments for our products are settled through third-party online payment services. We also share certain personal information about our customers with contracted third-party couriers, such as their names, addresses, phone numbers and transaction records. Moreover, we have accumulated a large volume of data, which covers customer’s browsing and consumption behavior information, product manufacturing and sales information, warehousing and distribution information and customer service information, among others.
Hackers develop and deploy viruses, worms, and other malicious software programs to attack websites or other online and mobile platforms and gain access to networks and data centers, and there have been a number of well-publicized malicious attacks against a variety of companies worldwide to gain access to non-public information. Hackers may also act in a coordinated manner to launch distributed denial of service attacks, or other coordinated attacks, that may cause service outages or other interruptions. In addition, we distribute our contents to users based on user interest levels indicated by their past viewing behavior. As a result, our content distribution platforms and the results of our user behavior analysis are subject to attempts of improper access or creating false or undesirable user accounts for purposes of spreading misinformation.
Although we believe that we have not experienced any hacking activity or security breach that allowed unauthorized access to any information stored on our information technology systems or caused any loss or corruption of personal information and other data, software or other computer equipment, we have been subject to denial of service attacks that have caused portions of our network to be inaccessible for limited periods of time. Although these are industry wide problems that affect many companies worldwide, we anticipate that we may be subject to additional attacks in the future because of the high profile of our company in the Chinese internet industry.
We take a number of measures to ensure that our information technology systems are secure, including ensuring that our servers are hosted at physically secure sites and limiting access to server ports. We also use encryption and authentication technologies to secure the transmission and storage of data. These security measures may be compromised as a result of third-party security breaches, employee error, malfeasance, faulty password management, or other irregularities. Third parties may also attempt to fraudulently induce employees or customers into disclosing user names, passwords or other sensitive information, which may in turn be used to access our information technology systems. We expect that we will be required to continue to expend significant resources on system security, data encryption, and other security measures to protect our systems and data, but these security measures cannot provide absolute security.
In the case of a breach of our systems, our data on the purchase and consumption of virtual items by our game players and other personal information of our users such as users of our intelligent education and e-commerce products may be compromised. As a result, our ability to accurately recognize revenues from certain of our online games and the playing experience of our game players could be materially and adversely affected. Moreover, if a computer security breach allows unauthorized access to or release of personal information and other data of our users, our reputation and brand could be materially damaged and use of the NetEase websites and other online and mobile platforms could decrease. We could also be exposed to a risk of loss or litigation and possible liability, which could result in a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
The success of our business is dependent on our ability to retain our existing key employees and to add and retain senior officers to our management.
We depend on the services of our existing key employees. Our success will largely depend on our ability to retain these key employees and to attract and retain qualified senior and middle level managers to our management team. Future changes in management could cause material disruptions to our business. We also depend on our ability to attract and retain in the future highly skilled technical, editorial, marketing and customer service personnel, especially experienced online game software developers. We cannot assure you that we will be able to attract or retain such personnel or that any personnel we hire in the future will successfully integrate into our organization or ultimately contribute positively to our business. In particular, the market for experienced online game software programmers is intensely competitive in China. While we believe we offer compensation packages that are consistent with market practice, we cannot be certain that we will be able to hire and retain sufficient experienced programmers to support our online games business. We may also be unsuccessful in training and retaining less-experienced programmers on a cost-effective basis. The loss of any of our key employees would significantly harm our business. We do not maintain key person life insurance on any of our employees.
Unexpected network interruption caused by system failures may reduce visitor traffic and harm our reputation.
Both the continual accessibility of the NetEase websites and other online and mobile platforms and the performance and reliability of our technical infrastructure are critical to our reputation and the ability of the NetEase websites and other online and mobile platforms to attract and retain users and advertisers. Any system failure or performance inadequacy that causes interruptions in the availability of our services or increases the response time of our services could reduce user satisfaction and traffic, which would reduce the NetEase websites and other online and mobile platforms’ appeal to users and advertisers. As the number of NetEase websites, mobile applications and traffic increase, we cannot assure you that we will be able to scale our systems proportionately. Any system failures and electrical outages could materially and adversely impact our business.
Our operations are vulnerable to natural disasters, widespread public health problems and other events.
We have limited backup systems and have experienced system failures and electrical outages from time to time in the past, which have disrupted our operations. Most of our servers and routers are currently located at several different locations in China. Our disaster recovery plan may not fully ensure safety in the event of damage from fire, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, power loss, telecommunications failures, break-ins and similar events. If any of the foregoing occurs, we may experience a system shutdown. We do not carry any business interruption insurance. To improve performance and to prevent disruption of our services, we may have to make substantial investments to deploy additional servers. We carry property insurance with low coverage limits that may not be adequate to compensate us for all losses, particularly with respect to loss of business and reputation that may occur.
Our business could be adversely affected by widespread public health or other outbreaks and epidemics.
COVID-19, a novel strain of coronavirus, has spread worldwide. Many governments around the world have implemented a variety of measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including travel restrictions and bans, instructions to residents to practice social distancing, quarantine advisories, shelter-in-place orders and required closures of non-essential businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the global economy, disrupted global supply chains and created significant volatility and disruption of financial markets. While COVID-19 vaccines have been approved in various countries, the production, distribution and administration of any such vaccines on a widespread basis may take a significant amount of time, and there can be no assurances as to the long-term safety and efficacy of such vaccines or if the current vaccines will be effective against new strains of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
There is significant uncertainty around the duration of this disruption on a national and global level, as well as the ongoing effects on our business. This outbreak has caused, and may continue to cause us and certain of our business partners, including game licensors, suppliers, customers, advertisers and manufacturers, to implement temporary and/or permanent adjustments of work schemes allowing employees to work from home. We have taken measures to reduce the impact of this outbreak, including monitoring our employees’ health and optimizing our technology system to support potential growth in game player traffic. However, we and certain of our business partners might still experience lower work efficiency and productivity, which may adversely affect our service quality. This outbreak has also caused governments and others to place restrictions on our employees’ and our business partners’ ability to travel. In addition, the deterioration in economic conditions in connection with the outbreak globally has caused, and may continue to cause, decreases or delays in advertising and marketing service spending (in particular, due to the cancellation and/or delay of live in-person events) and budgets of customers across our platforms. As a result of any of the above developments, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
The extent to which COVID-19 impacts our results will depend on future developments, which are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted, including new information which may emerge concerning the severity of COVID-19 and any of its variants and the actions to contain COVID-19 or treat its impact, among others. There have also been other outbreaks of epidemics in China and globally in recent years. Our operations could be disrupted if any future outbreak occurs in China, where substantially all of our revenue is derived, or in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, where most of our employees are located. Our operations may be impacted due to closures of our offices or the quarantining, sickness or death of any of our key officers and employees. Our operations could also be severely disrupted if such health problems or outbreak lead to a general slowdown in the Chinese economy or if our suppliers, customers or business partners were affected by such outbreaks or health epidemics.
From time to time we may evaluate and consummate strategic investments or acquisitions, which could require significant management attention, disrupt our business and adversely affect our financial results.
We from time to time evaluate and enter into discussions regarding a wide array of potential long-term investments, merger or acquisition transactions. Any transactions that we enter into could be material to our financial condition and results of operations. The process of integrating with another company or integrating an acquired company, business, asset or technology may create unforeseen operating difficulties and expenditures. The areas where we face risks include:
Our failure to address these risks or other problems encountered in connection with our future acquisitions and investments could cause us to fail to realize the anticipated benefits of such acquisitions or investments, incur unanticipated liabilities and expenses and harm our business generally. If we use our equity securities to pay for acquisitions, we may dilute the value of your American depositary shares, or ADSs, and the underlying ordinary shares. If we borrow funds to finance acquisitions, such debt instruments may contain restrictive covenants that could, among other things, restrict us from distributing dividends. Such acquisitions and investments may also lead to significant amortization expenses related to intangible assets, impairment charges or write-offs.
We face risks associated with our long-term and short-term investments.
We currently invest a portion of our capital in long-term and short-term investments. As of December 31, 2020, our long-term investments mainly consisted of investment in equity method investees, equity investments with readily determinable fair values and equity investments without readily determinable fair values, and our short-term investments mainly consisted of financial products issued by commercial banks in China with a variable interest rate indexed to the performance of underlying assets and a maturity date within one year when purchased. These investments may earn yields substantially lower than anticipated, and any failure to realize the benefits we expected from these investments may materially and adversely affect our business and financial results.
We had investment losses of RMB22.4 million, investment income of RMB1,306.3 million and investment income of RMB1,610.0 million (US$246.8 million) for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively.
If our server and bandwidth service providers fail to provide these services, our business could be materially curtailed.
We mainly rely on affiliates of China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile to provide us with server and bandwidth service for internet users to access the NetEase websites and other online and mobile platforms. If China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile or their affiliates fail to provide such services or raise prices for their services, we may not be able to find a reliable and cost-effective substitute provider on a timely basis or at all. If this happens, our business could be materially curtailed.
We also rely on cloud servers maintained by third-party cloud service providers particularly for our overseas games. We do not control the operation of these providers or their facilities, and the facilities are vulnerable to damage, interruption or misconduct. Unanticipated problems at these facilities could result in lengthy interruptions in our services. Problems with our cloud service providers or the telecommunications network providers with whom they contract could adversely affect the experience of our users. Any change in service levels at our cloud servers or any errors, defects, disruptions, or other performance problems with our platform could harm our business or reputation or we could be required to retain the services of replacement providers, which could increase our operating costs.
We may be held liable for information or content displayed on, retrieved from or linked to the NetEase websites and other NetEase’s online and mobile platforms.
We may face liability for defamation, negligence, copyright, patent or trademark infringement and other claims based on the nature and content of the materials that are published on the NetEase websites and other products and services. We are involved in intellectual property infringement claims or actions from time to time and are occasionally subject to defamation claims or infringement claims related to individual’s publicity rights. We believe that the amounts claimed in these actions, in the aggregate, are not material to our business. However, these amounts may be increased for a variety of reasons as the claims progress, and we and our affiliates could be subject to additional defamation or infringement claims which, singly or in the aggregate, could have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations, if successful. Also, we may be subject to administrative actions brought by relevant PRC competent governmental authorities and in the most severe scenario criminal prosecution for alleged infringement, and as a result may be subject to fines and other penalties and be required to discontinue infringing activities. Furthermore, as we expand our operations outside of China, we may be subject to claims brought against us in jurisdictions outside of China.
We also could be subject to copyright, defamation and other claims based upon user-generated content that is accessible on the NetEase websites or other online and mobile platforms such as content and materials posted or uploaded by users on message boards, online communities, social media platforms, voting systems, e-mail, chat rooms or our other online and mobile platforms including NetEase Cloud Music, NetEase CC live streaming platform and the NetEase NewsApp. By providing technology for hypertext links to third-party websites, we may be held liable for copyright or trademark violations by those third- party sites. Third parties could assert claims against us for losses incurred in reliance on any erroneous information distributed by us. Moreover, users of the NetEase web-based e-mail services could seek damages from us for:
We may incur significant costs in investigating and defending these claims, even if they do not result in liability.
Divestitures of businesses and assets may have a material and adverse effect on our business and financial condition.
We have undertaken, and may undertake in the future, partial or complete divestitures or other disposal transactions in connection with certain of our businesses and assets, particularly ones that are not closely related to our core focus areas or might require excessive resources or financial capital, to help our company meet its objectives. For example, in September 2019, we sold our e-commerce platform Kaola. These decisions are largely based on our management’s assessment of the business models and likelihood of success of these businesses. However, our judgment could be inaccurate, and we may not achieve the desired strategic and financial benefits from these transactions. Our financial results could be adversely affected by the impact from the loss of earnings and corporate overhead contribution/allocation associated with divested businesses. In addition, as our net income/(loss) from discontinued operations are non-recurrent, it may be difficult for investors and analysts to predict our future earnings potential based on our historical financial performance.
Dispositions may also involve continued financial involvement in the divested business, such as through guarantees, indemnities or other financial obligations. Under these arrangements, performance by the divested businesses or other conditions outside of our control could affect our future financial results. We may also be exposed to negative publicity as a result of the potential misconception that the divested business is still part of our consolidated group. On the other hand, we cannot assure you that the divesting business would not pursue opportunities to provide services to our competitors or other opportunities that would conflict with our interests. If any conflicts of interest that may arise between the divesting business and us cannot be resolved in our favor, our business, financial condition, results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Furthermore, reducing or eliminating our ownership interests in these businesses might negatively affect our operations, prospects, or long-term value. We may lose access to resources or know-how that would have been useful in the development of our own business. Our ability to diversify or expand our existing businesses or to move into new areas of business may be reduced, and we may have to modify our business strategy to focus more exclusively on areas of business where we already possess the necessary expertise. We may sell our interests too early, and thus forego gains that we otherwise would have received had we not sold. Selecting businesses to dispose of or spin off, finding buyers for them (or the equity interest in them to be sold) and negotiating prices for what may be relatively illiquid ownership interests with no easily ascertainable fair market value will also require significant attention from our management and may divert resources from our existing business, which in turn could have an adverse effect on our business operations.
The Hong Kong Stock Exchange granted us a waiver from strict compliance with the requirements in Paragraph 3(b) of Practice Note 15 to the Hong Kong Listing Rules such that we are able to list a subsidiary entity (other than one involving our online game business) on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange within three years of the Listing. We may consider a spin-off listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange for one or more of our businesses (other than our online game business) within the three-year period subsequent to the Listing. The waiver granted by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange is conditional upon us confirming to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in advance of any spin-off that it would not render our Company incapable of fulfilling the eligibility requirements under Rule 19C.05 of the Hong Kong Listing Rules based on the financial information of the entity or entities to be spun-off at the time of the Company’s Listing (calculated cumulatively if more than one entity is spun-off).
RISKS RELATED TO OUR CORPORATE STRUCTURE
If the PRC government finds that the contractual arrangements with our VIEs do not comply with applicable PRC laws and regulations, or if these regulations or their interpretations change in the future, we may be subject to penalties or be forced to relinquish our interests in those operations.
Due to legal restrictions on foreign investment in Chinese companies providing value-added telecommunications services and holding ICP licenses and other regulated licenses, we operate all of our business segments through contractual arrangements with the VIEs and their equity holders. The contractual arrangements enable us to (i) hold effective control over the VIEs; (ii) receive substantially all of the economic benefits of our VIEs; and (iii) have an exclusive option to purchase all or part of the equity interests in the VIEs when and to the extent permitted by PRC law or request any existing shareholders of the VIEs to transfer any or part of the equity interests in the relevant VIE to another PRC person or entity designated by us at any time at our discretion. Because of the contractual arrangements, we are the primary beneficiary of the VIEs and their respective subsidiaries and consolidate the results of operations of the VIEs into ours. Our VIEs and their respective subsidiaries hold the licenses, approvals and key assets that are essential for our business operations.
If the PRC government finds that our contractual arrangements do not comply with the existing or future restrictions on foreign investment, or if the PRC government otherwise finds that we, the VIEs or any of their subsidiaries are in violation of the existing or future PRC laws or regulations or lack the necessary permits or licenses to operate our business, the relevant PRC regulatory authorities would have broad discretion in dealing with such violations or failures, including, without limitation:
|●||revoking our business and operating licenses;|
|●||discontinuing or restricting our operations;|
|●||imposing fines or confiscating any of our income that they deem to have been obtained through illegal operations;|
|●||imposing conditions or requirements with which we may not be able to comply;|
|●||requiring us to restructure the relevant ownership structure or operations;|
|●||restricting our financing activities to finance the business and operations of our VIEs; or|
|●||taking other regulatory or enforcement actions that could be harmful to our business.|
Any of these actions could cause significant disruption to our business operations, and may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. In addition, it is unclear what impact the PRC government actions would have on us and on our ability to consolidate the financial results of any of the VIEs in our consolidated financial statements, if the PRC governmental authorities find our legal structure and contractual arrangements to be in violation of PRC laws, rules and regulations. If any of these penalties results in our inability to direct the activities of VIEs that most significantly impact their economic performance and/or our failure to receive the economic benefits from the VIEs, we may not be able to consolidate the VIEs and their respective subsidiaries into our consolidated financial statements. Please also see the below risk factors “— Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to how the 2019 Foreign Investment Law may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.” and “— Risks Related to Doing Business in China—The Chinese government restricts the ability for foreign investors to invest in and operate in certain types of telecommunications and internet businesses.”
Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to how the 2019 Foreign Investment Law may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
On March 15, 2019, the Standing Committee of National People’s Congress promulgated the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law, which became effective on January 1, 2020. The 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law replaces the trio of existing laws regulating foreign investment in China, namely, the Wholly Foreign-owned Enterprises Law, the Sino-foreign Equity Joint Ventures Law, and the Sino-foreign Cooperative Joint Ventures Law, together with their implementation rules and ancillary regulations, and embodies an expected PRC regulatory trend to rationalize its foreign investment regulatory regime in line with prevailing international practice and the legislative efforts to unify the corporate legal requirements for both foreign and domestic investments. However, uncertainties still exist in relation to interpretation and implementation of the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law, especially in regard to, including, among other things, the nature of VIE structure, the promulgation schedule of both the “negative list” under the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law and specific rules regulating the organization form of foreign-invested enterprises within the five-year transition period. The VIE structure has been adopted by many PRC-based companies, including us, to obtain necessary licenses and permits in the industries that are currently subject to foreign investment restrictions in China. While the 2019 Foreign Investment Law and its implementation regulations which took effect on January 1, 2020 do not define contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment explicitly, we cannot assure you that future laws and regulations will not provide for contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment. Therefore, there can be no assurance that our control over our VIEs through contractual arrangements will not be deemed as foreign investment in the future.
In the event that any possible future laws, administrative regulations or provisions deem contractual arrangements as a way of foreign investment, or if any of our operations through contractual arrangements is classified in the “restricted” or “prohibited” industry in the future “negative list” under the 2019 Foreign Investment Law, our contractual arrangements may be deemed as invalid and illegal, and we may be required to unwind the VIE contractual arrangements and/or dispose of any affected business. Also, if future laws, administrative regulations or provisions mandate further actions to be taken with respect to existing contractual arrangements, we may face substantial uncertainties as to whether we can complete such actions in a timely manner, or at all. In addition, the 2019 Foreign Investment Law provides that foreign invested enterprises established according to the existing laws regulating foreign investment may maintain their structure and corporate governance within a five-year transition period, which means that we may be required to adjust the structure and corporate governance of certain of our PRC subsidiaries after such transition period. Failure to take timely and appropriate measures to cope with any of these or similar regulatory compliance challenges could materially and adversely affect our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
Our contractual arrangements with our VIEs may not be as effective in providing operational control as direct ownership. If our VIEs or their ultimate shareholders violate our contractual arrangements with them, our business could be disrupted, our reputation may be harmed and we may have to resort to litigation to enforce our rights, which may be time consuming and expensive.
Our VIEs are owned by shareholders whose interests may differ from ours and those of our shareholders because they own a larger percentage of such companies than of our company. These affiliated companies or their ultimate shareholders could violate our arrangements with them by, among other things, failing to operate and maintain the NetEase websites and other online and mobile platforms, or their various businesses in an acceptable manner, failing to remit revenue to us on a timely basis or at all or diverting customers or business opportunities from our company. In addition, the operation of the online games licensed from Blizzard is dependent on Shanghai EaseNet, which is owned by William Lei Ding, our Chief Executive Officer, director and major shareholder, and has contractual arrangements with us and with the joint venture established between Blizzard and us. The interests of Mr. Ding and the joint venture may differ from ours and those of our shareholders. A violation of the foregoing agreements could disrupt our business and adversely affect our reputation in the market. If these companies or their ultimate shareholders violate our agreements with them, we may have to incur substantial costs and expend significant resources to enforce those arrangements and rely on legal remedies under the PRC laws. Many PRC laws, rules and regulations are relatively new, and because of the limited volume of published decisions and their non-binding nature, the interpretation and enforcement of these laws, rules and regulations involve substantial uncertainties. These uncertainties may impede our ability to enforce these agreements, or cause us to suffer significant delay or other obstacles in the process of enforcing these agreements, and may materially and adversely affect our results of operations and financial position.
Because our contractual arrangements with certain of our affiliated entities and their ultimate shareholders do not detail the parties’ rights and obligations, our remedies for a breach of these arrangements are limited.
Our current relationship with certain affiliated entities, including Guangzhou NetEase, Hangzhou Leihuo, Youdao Computer, Shanghai EaseNet, and their ultimate shareholders is based on a number of contracts, and these affiliated companies are considered our VIEs for accounting purposes. The terms of these agreements are often statements of general intent and do not detail the rights and obligations of the parties. Some of these contracts provide that the parties will enter into further agreements on the details of the services to be provided. Others contain price and payment terms that are subject to monthly adjustment. These provisions may be subject to differing interpretations, particularly on the details of the services to be provided and on price and payment terms. It may be difficult for us to obtain remedies or damages from these affiliated entities or their ultimate shareholders for breaching our agreements. Because we rely significantly on these companies for our business, the realization of any of these risks may disrupt our operations or cause degradation in the quality and service provided on, or a temporary or permanent shutdown of, the NetEase websites or other online and mobile platforms.
One of our shareholders has significant influence over our company.
Our founder, Chief Executive Officer and director, William Lei Ding, beneficially owned, as of March 31, 2021, approximately 43.2% of our total outstanding shares and is our largest shareholder. Accordingly, Mr. Ding has significant influence in determining the outcome of any corporate transaction or other matter submitted to the shareholders for approval, including mergers, consolidations, the sale of all or substantially all of our assets, election of directors and other significant corporate actions. He also has significant influence in preventing or causing a change in control. In addition, without the consent of this shareholder, we may be prevented from entering into transactions that could be beneficial to us. The interests of Mr. Ding may differ from the interests of our other shareholders.
A majority of the share capital of certain of our affiliated entities are held by our major shareholder, who may cause these agreements to be amended in a manner that is adverse to us.
William Lei Ding, directly or indirectly holds the majority interest in certain of our VIEs. As a result, Mr. Ding may be able to cause the agreements related to those companies to be amended in a manner that will be adverse to our company, or may be able to cause these agreements not to be renewed, even if their renewal would be beneficial for us. Although we have entered into an agreement that prevents the amendment of these agreements without the approval of the members of our board of directors other than Mr. Ding, we can provide no assurances that these agreements will not be amended in the future to contain terms that might differ from the terms that are currently in place. These differences may be adverse to our interests. In addition, William Lei Ding also holds the entire share capital of Shanghai EaseNet, and we can provide no assurance that Mr. Ding will not cause the agreements related to Shanghai EaseNet to be amended in the future in a manner that will be adverse to us or to contain terms that might differ from the terms that are currently in place. These differences may be adverse to our interests.
We may not be able to conduct our operations without the services provided by certain of our affiliated entities.
Our operations are currently dependent upon our commercial relationships with our VIEs, and we derive most of our revenues from these companies. If these companies are unwilling or unable to perform the agreements which we have entered into with them, we may not be able to conduct our operations in the manner in which we currently do. In addition, our VIEs may seek to renew these agreements on terms that are disadvantageous to us. Although we have entered into a series of agreements that provide us with substantial ability to control these companies, we may not succeed in enforcing our rights under them. If we are unable to renew these agreements on favorable terms, or to enter into similar agreements with other parties, our business may not expand, and our operating expenses may increase.
Our corporate structure may restrict our ability to receive dividends from, and transfer funds to, our PRC subsidiaries and VIEs, which could restrict our ability to act in response to changing market conditions and reallocate funds internally in a timely manner.
NetEase, Inc. is a holding company with no significant assets other than cash on hand and its equity interests in its directly and indirectly-owned subsidiaries, including those set forth in the organizational diagram appearing in Item 4.B. “Business Overview—Our Organizational Structure.” As a result, our primary internal source of funds for our cash and financing requirements is dividend payments and other distributions on equity from our subsidiaries. If these subsidiaries incur debt on their own behalf in the future, the instruments governing the debt may restrict their ability to pay dividends or make other distributions to us, which in turn would limit our ability to pay dividends on our ordinary shares and service any debt we may incur. PRC tax authorities may also require us to amend our contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders in a manner that would materially and adversely affect the ability of our subsidiaries to pay dividends and other distributions to us. In addition, Chinese legal restrictions permit payment of dividends only out of net income as determined in accordance with Chinese accounting standards and regulations. Under Chinese law, our PRC subsidiaries and VIEs are also required to set aside a portion of their net income each year to fund certain reserve funds, except in cases where a company’s cumulative appropriations have already reached the statutory limit of 50% of that company’s registered capital. These reserves are not distributable as cash dividends. Also see “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—We may be treated as a resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes under the Enterprise Income Tax Law, which may subject us to PRC income tax on our global income and result in dividends payable by us to our foreign investors, and gains on the sales of our ordinary shares or ADSs, becoming subject to taxes under PRC tax laws, which may materially reduce the value of your investment.” Any limitation on the ability of our PRC subsidiaries and VIEs to transfer funds to us in the form of dividends or other distributions could materially and adversely limit our ability to grow, make investments or acquisitions that could be beneficial to our businesses, pay debt or dividends, and otherwise fund and conduct our business.
In addition, any transfer of funds from us to any of our PRC subsidiaries or VIEs, either as a shareholder loan or as an increase in registered capital, is subject to certain statutory limit requirements and registration or approval of the relevant PRC governmental authorities, including the relevant administration of foreign exchange and/or the relevant examining and approval authority.
Therefore, it is difficult to change our capital expenditure plans once the relevant funds have been remitted from our company to our PRC subsidiaries or VIEs. These limitations on the free flow of funds between us and our PRC subsidiaries and VIEs could restrict our ability to act in response to changing market conditions and reallocate funds internally in a timely manner.
Our arrangements with certain of our affiliated entities and their respective shareholders may cause a transfer pricing adjustment and may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities.
We could face material and adverse tax consequences if the PRC tax authorities determine that our contracts with our VIEs and their respective shareholders were not entered into based on arm’s-length negotiations. Although our contractual arrangements are similar to those of other companies conducting similar operations in China, if the PRC tax authorities determine that these contracts were not entered into on an arm’s-length basis, they may adjust our income and expenses for PRC tax purposes in the form of a transfer pricing adjustment which may result in an increase in our taxes. In addition, the PRC tax authorities may also impose late payment interest.
A transfer of shares of certain of our affiliated entities may trigger tax liability.
If we need to cause the transfer of shareholdings of our VIEs from their current respective shareholders to any other individual, we may be required to pay individual income tax in the PRC on behalf of the transferring shareholder. Such individual income tax would be based on any gain deemed to have been realized by such shareholder on such transfer, and may be calculated based on a tax rate of 20% applied to the transferring shareholder’s interest in net book value of the entity whose shares are being transferred minus the original investment cost. A significant tax obligation arising from any such transfer of shares could materially adversely affect our business and results of operations.
We may lose the ability to use and enjoy assets held by any of our principal VIEs that are important to the operation of our business if such VIE declares bankruptcy or becomes subject to a dissolution or liquidation proceeding.
Our principal VIEs hold assets that are material to our business operations, such as our certain intellectual property and core licenses and permits. Although the VIE contracts between our subsidiaries and VIEs and the shareholders of our VIEs contain terms that prohibit the shareholders of our VIEs from adversely affecting the existence of the VIEs, in the event the shareholders breach this obligation and voluntarily liquidate our VIEs, or if any of our VIEs declare bankruptcy and all or part of its assets become subject to liens or rights of third-party creditors, we might be unable to continue some or all of our business operations. Furthermore, if any of our VIEs were to undergo a voluntary or involuntary liquidation proceeding, its shareholders or unrelated third-party creditors might claim rights to some or all of such VIE’s assets and their rights could be senior to our rights under the VIE contracts, thereby hindering our ability to operate our business.
RISKS RELATED TO DOING BUSINESS IN CHINA
The political relationships between China and other countries may affect our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows and prospects.
We have launched more than 50 mobile games in global markets since 2015 and also offer certain other services outside of China. As a result, China’s political relationships with other countries in which our services are available may affect our business operations. For instance, in September 2020, after heightened tensions between China and India over the disputed Himalayan mountain border, the government of India announced the ban of 118 mobile applications of Chinese origin, including several of our products. In addition, in September 2020, former U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order blocking TikTok and WeChat from processing transactions for U.S. citizens and from being downloaded in U.S. app stores due to national security concerns. This executive order is currently under review by U.S. federal courts. In January 2021, President Trump also issued an executive order prohibiting transactions between U.S. individuals and companies and eight Chinese applications, including AliPay and QQ. Although the foregoing executive orders are not directed at our services and the ban in India has not materially impacted our online games services revenue, there can be no assurance that the deterioration of political relationships between China and other foreign jurisdictions will not result in further bans or restrictions on our products.
We have been closely monitoring domestic policies in the United States designed to restrict certain Chinese companies from supplying or operating in the U.S. market. These policies include the Clean Network project initiated by the U.S. Department of State in August 2020 and new authorities granted to the Department of Commerce to prohibit or restrict the use of information and communications technology and services, or ICTS. While a substantial majority of our business is conducted in China, policies like these may deter U.S. users from accessing and/or using our products and services in the United States, which could adversely impact our user experience and reputation.
Likewise, we are monitoring policies in the United States that are aimed at restricting U.S. persons from investing in or supplying certain Chinese companies. The United States and various foreign governments have imposed controls, license requirements and restrictions on the import or export of technologies and products (or voiced the intention to do so). For instance, the United States is in the process of developing new export controls with respect to “emerging and foundational” technologies, which may include certain AI and semiconductor technologies. In addition, the U.S. government may potentially impose a ban prohibiting U.S. persons from making investments in or engaging in transactions with certain Chinese companies. Measures such as these could deter suppliers in the United States and/or other countries that impose export controls and other restrictions from providing technologies and products to, making investments in, or otherwise engaging in transactions with Chinese companies. As a result, Chinese companies would have to identify and secure alterative supplies or sources of financing, while they may not be able to do so in a timely manner and at commercially acceptable terms, or at all. In addition, Chinese companies may have to limit and reduce their research and development and other business activities, or cease conducting transactions with parties, in the United States and other countries that impose export controls or other restrictions. Like other Chinese companies, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected as a result.
In addition, there can be no assurance that our customers will not alter their perception of us or their preferences as a result of adverse changes to the state of political relationships between China and the relevant foreign jurisdiction. Any tensions and political concerns between China and the relevant foreign jurisdictions may adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows and prospects.
Changes in government regulation of the telecommunications and internet industries in China may result in uncertainties in interpretation and/or the Chinese government requiring us to obtain additional licenses or other governmental approvals to conduct our business, both of which may restrict our operations.
The telecommunications and internet industry, including ICP services and online games, is highly regulated by the Chinese government. In addition, the telecommunication and internet-related laws and regulations are relatively new and constantly evolving, and their interpretation and enforcement involve significant uncertainties. As a result, in certain circumstances, it may be difficult to determine what actions or omissions may be deemed to be in violation of applicable laws and regulations in this area.
The evolving PRC regulatory system for the telecommunications and internet industries may lead to the establishment of new regulatory agencies. For example, in May 2011, the State Council announced the establishment of the CAC, whose primary role is to facilitate the policy-making and legislative development in the telecommunications and internet industries by coordinating with other relevant governmental agencies in connection with online content administration and handling cross-ministry regulatory matters in relation to such industries.
In addition, we are uncertain as to whether the Chinese government will reclassify our business as a media or retail company, due to our acceptance of fees for internet advertising, online games, e-commerce, and other innovative services as sources of revenues, or as a result of our current corporate structure. Such reclassification could subject us to penalties, fines or significant restrictions on our business. Moreover, NetEase, Inc. may have difficulties enforcing its rights under the agreements with our VIEs if any of these parties breaches any of the agreements with them because NetEase, Inc. does not have approval from appropriate Chinese authorities to provide internet content services, internet advertising services, e-commerce services or other innovative services. Future changes in Chinese government policies affecting the provision of information services, including the provision of online services, internet access, e-commerce services, online advertising and online gaming may impose additional regulatory requirements on us or our service providers or otherwise harm our business.
The Chinese government restricts the ability for foreign investors to invest in and operate in certain types of telecommunications and internet businesses.
Foreign ownership of certain types of telecommunications and internet businesses which we operate, including value-added telecommunications services, internet cultural services and internet publication services, is subject to restrictions under applicable PRC laws. For example, on September 28, 2009, GAPP, together with the National Copyright Administration and National Office of Combating Pornography and Illegal Publications issued a Notice Regarding the Consistent Implementation of the “Regulation on Three Provisions” of the State Council and the Relevant Interpretations of the State Commission Office for Public Sector Reform and the Further Strengthening of the Administration of Examination and Approval of Online Games and the Examination and Approval of Imported Online Games, or Circular 13. According to Circular 13, foreign investors are not permitted to invest in online game operating businesses in China via wholly-owned, equity joint venture or cooperative joint venture investments and expressly prohibits foreign investors from gaining control over or participating in domestic online game operators through indirect ways such as establishing other joint venture companies, or contractual or technical arrangements. In addition, the Administration of Online Publishing Service jointly issued by the SAPPRFT and the MIIT, effective on March 10, 2016, forbids foreign investments in the online publishing business.
With respect to our internet media business, the CAC’s Provisions for the Administration of Internet News Information Services, which became effective from June 1, 2017, expressly prohibit any Sino-foreign equity joint venture or cooperative joint venture or any foreign-funded enterprise to conduct internet-based news information services. We believe we are in compliance with such requirement because our internet media business is conducted through our contractually controlled VIEs that are PRC entities. Additionally, in accordance with the Several Opinions on the Introduction of Foreign Capital to the Culture Sector (Wen Ban Fa  No. 19) issued by the MOC on July 6, 2005, foreign investors (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) are prohibited from establishing or operating internet-based cultural institutions. It is unclear what activities count as “operating internet-based cultural institutions,” however certain services we provide in our innovative businesses and others segment are likely to be deemed as such. We believe we are also in compliance with this requirement because we operate our other innovative businesses and other services through our contractually controlled VIEs.
It is unclear whether the authorities will deem our VIE structure as a kind of “indirect way” for foreign investors to gain control over or participate in domestic online game operators, internet-based news information services or internet-based cultural institutions. If our VIE structure is deemed as one such “indirect way,” our VIE structure may be challenged by the authorities and the authorities may require us to restructure our VIE structure and take action to prohibit or restrict our business operations. In such case, we may not be able to operate or control business in the same manner as we currently do and may not be able to consolidate the VIEs. Please also see “Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure” above for a discussion of the risks associated with our VIE structure.
In recent years, the PRC government has been promoting foreign investment reform in some sectors and purported to loosen the foreign investment restrictions in those sectors. For example, the Notice of the MIIT on Removing the Restrictions on Foreign Equity Ratios in Online Data Processing and Transaction Processing (Operating E-commerce) Business promulgated by the MIIT on June 19, 2015, allows foreign investors to hold up to 100% of the equity interests in an online data processing and transaction processing business (operational e-commerce) in China. In addition, the NDRC and the MOFCOM jointly published the 2019 edition of the Special Administrative Measures for Access of Foreign Investments, or the 2019 Negative List, which came into effect on July 30, 2019 and has been replaced by the 2020 edition of the Special Administrative Measures for Access of Foreign Investments, or the 2020 Negative List. The 2019 Negative List and the 2020 Negative List have removed some of the previous restrictions on value-added telecommunications providers by allowing foreign investors to hold up to 100% of the equity interests in e-commerce, domestic multi-party communication, e-storage and forwarding and call center businesses in China. It is unclear how these new policies will be implemented. More generally, the authorities in China have broad discretion in the determination and interpretation of the rules and regulations regarding foreign investment in the telecommunications and internet business, which may adversely impact our financial statements, operations and cash flows.
The Chinese government has taken steps to limit online game playing time for all minors and to otherwise control the content and operation of online games. These and any other new restrictions on online games may materially and adversely impact our business and results of operations.
As part of its anti-addiction online game policy, the Chinese government has taken several steps to discourage minors under the age of 18 from continuously playing online games once they exceed a set number of hours of continuous play. For example, in July 2005, the MOC and the MII jointly issued the Opinions on Online Game Development and Management which requires online game operators to develop systems and software for identity certification, to implement anti-addiction modifications to game rules and to restrict players under 18 years of age from playing certain games. Subsequently, in August 2005, GAPP proposed an online game anti-addiction system that would have reduced and eliminated experience points that a user can accumulate after three and five hours of consecutive playing, respectively. In March 2006, GAPP amended its proposal to require players to register with their real names and identity card numbers and to apply the anti-addiction system only to players under 18 years of age. In April 2007, GAPP and several other government authorities jointly promulgated the Notice Concerning the Protection of Minors’ Physical and Mental Well-being and Implementation of Anti-addiction System on Online Games, or the Anti-Addiction Notice, which confirmed the real-name verification proposal and required online game operators to develop and test their anti-addiction systems from April 2007 to July 2007, after which no online games can be registered or operated without an anti-addiction system in accordance with the Anti-Addiction Notice. Accordingly, we implemented our anti-addiction system to comply with the Anti-Addiction Notice. Since its implementation, we have not experienced a significant negative impact on our business as a result of the Anti-Addiction Notice. The Law of the PRC on the Protection of Minors (“Minors Protection Law”) issued by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on September 4, 1991 was recently amended on October 17 2020 and will take effect on June 1, 2021, pursuant to which, online game service provider shall classify the game products in accordance with relevant regulations and standards, give age-appropriate tips and take technical measures to prevent minors from contacting improper game or game function. Violation of the Minors Protection Law could result in rectification, confiscation of illegal gains and penalties.
To identify that a game player is a minor and is thus subject to the online game anti-addiction system, a real-name registration system must be adopted to require players to register their real identity information before playing online games. Pursuant to the Notice Regarding the Initiation of Work on the Online Games Real-Name Verification System to Prevent Online Gaming Addiction, or the Commencement of Real-Name Authentication Notice, issued by eight government authorities on July 1, 2011, online game (excluding mobile game) operators must submit the identity information of game players which needs to be further verified to the National Citizen Identity Information Center, a subordinate public institution of the Ministry of Public Security, for verification since October 1, 2011, in an effort to prevent minors from using an adult’s ID to play online games. Violation of the Anti-addiction Notice and the Commencement of Real-name Authentication Notice could result in the termination of the operation of online games. On August 30, 2018, the Implementation Scheme on Comprehensive Prevention and Control of Adolescent Myopia, or the Implementation Scheme, was issued jointly by eight PRC regulatory authorities at the national level, including the NPPA and the NRTA. The Implementation Scheme provides that as a part of the plan to prevent myopia among children, the NPPA will control the number of new online games and take steps to restrict the amount of time children spend on playing online games. On October 25, 2019, the NPPA promulgated the Notice on Preventing Minors from Indulging in Online Games, according to which the length of minors’ use of online games should be strictly controlled. It requires all online game users to register their identification information. The total length of time for minors to access online games must be limited on a daily basis. Every day from 22:00 to 8:00 the next day, online game companies are not permitted to provide game services to minors in any form. Game services provided to minors must not exceed 3 hours per day on public holidays and 1.5 hours on other days. In addition, online transactions are capped monthly at RMB200 or RMB400, depending on a minor’s age. We have updated our anti-addiction systems accordingly to comply with the above-mentioned requirements. We do not believe that the Implementation Scheme has any material impact on our gaming operations, but we cannot assure you that any future regulations or restrictive rules will not adversely affect our operations.
On July 10, 2019, the MOCT announced the abolishment of the Interim Measures for the Administration of Online Games, or the Online Games Measures, which had previously regulated activities related to the online game industry, including requirements that game operators follow new registration procedures, publicize information about the content and suitability of their games, prevent access by minors to inappropriate games, avoid certain types of content in games targeted to minors, avoid game content that compels players to kill other players, manage virtual currency in certain ways and register users with their real identities. As of the date of the filing of this annual report, no laws and regulations had been promulgated or published to replace the Online Games Measures. We cannot be sure if or when any future regulations or restrictive rules in this regard will be promulgated and whether they would negatively impact our operations, including by increasing our compliance costs and negatively impacting our ability to launch and operate new games.
The Chinese government has not enacted any specific laws regarding virtual asset property rights and, accordingly, it is not clear what liabilities, if any, online game providers may have for virtual assets.
One of the features of our PC and mobile MMORPG which helps to build a large user base and maintain loyalty is that users can accumulate virtual tools, powers and rankings as they play the games. We believe that these virtual assets are highly valued by our users, particularly long-term users, and are traded among users. However, on occasion, such assets can be lost if, for example, a user’s identity is stolen by another user or we experience a system error or crash. Other than the PRC Civil Code, which was passed by the National People’s Representative Meeting on May 28, 2020 and took effect on January 1, 2021, which prescribes that network virtual property will be protected according to the laws and regulations stipulating the protection of such property, the Chinese government has not yet enacted any specific laws regarding virtual property rights. Accordingly, we have no basis to determine what are the legal rights, if any, associated with virtual assets and what liabilities we could be exposed to for the loss or destruction of virtual assets. We could therefore potentially be held liable for the way in which we handle and protect virtual assets.
Restrictions on virtual currency may adversely affect our online game revenues.
A large part of our online game revenues are collected through the sale of prepaid points, as described elsewhere on this annual report.
On February 15, 2007, the MOC, the PBOC, and 12 other PRC regulatory authorities jointly issued the Notice on the Reinforcement of the Administration of Internet Cafés and Online Games, or the Internet Cafés Notice, which strengthens the administration of virtual currency in online games to avoid any adverse impact on the PRC economy and financial system. Under the Internet Cafés Notice, the total amount of virtual currency issued by online game operators and the amount purchased by individual users should be strictly limited, with a clear distinction between virtual transactions and real transactions, so that virtual currency should only be used to purchase virtual items.
On June 4, 2009, the MOC and the MOFCOM jointly issued the Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Online Game Virtual Currency, or the Online Game Virtual Currency Notice, which defined “Virtual Currency” as a type of virtual exchange instrument that is issued by online game operators, purchased directly or indirectly by the game user by exchanging legal currency at a certain exchange rate, saved outside the game programs, stored in servers provided by the online game operators in electronic record format and represented by specific numeric units. In addition, the Online Game Virtual Currency Notice categorizes companies involved with virtual currency as either issuers or trading platforms and prohibits companies from simultaneously engaging both as issuers and as trading platforms. The Online Game Virtual Currency Notice’s objective is to limit the circulation of virtual currency and thereby reduce concerns that it may impact real world inflation. To accomplish this, the Online Game Virtual Currency Notice requires online game operators to report the total amount of their issued virtual currencies on a quarterly basis and to refrain from issuing disproportionate amounts of virtual currencies in order to generate revenues. In addition, the Online Game Virtual Currency Notice reiterates that virtual currency can only be provided to users in exchange for an RMB payment and can only be used to pay for virtual goods and services of the issuers. Online game operators are strictly prohibited from conducting lucky draws or lotteries in which participants pay cash or virtual currency to win game items or virtual currency. The Online Game Virtual Currency Notice also requires online game operators to keep transaction data records for no less than 180 days and to not provide virtual currency trading services to minors.
In order to comply with the requirements of the Online Game Virtual Currency Notice, we may need to change our prepaid point card distribution and database systems, resulting in higher costs of our online game operation, lower sales of our prepaid cards, or other changes in our business model. Such changes may therefore have an adverse effect on our revenues from online games.
Information displayed on, retrieved from or linked to the NetEase websites and other online and mobile platforms may subject us to claims of violating PRC laws.
Internet companies in China are subject to a variety of existing and new rules, regulations, policies, and license and permit requirements on the distribution of information over the mobile and internet. Under these rules and regulations, content service providers are prohibited from posting or displaying over the mobile or internet content that, among others, violates PRC laws and regulations, impairs the national security of China, is obscene, superstitious, defamatory, or may be deemed by relevant government authorities as “socially destabilizing” or leaking “state secrets” of China. Violations or perceived violations of Chinese laws arising from information displayed on, retrieved from or linked to the NetEase websites and other online and mobile platforms could result in significant penalties, including a temporary or complete cessation of our business.
Multiple organizations are involved in the administering of such regulations, including the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party, which has been given the responsibility to censor news published in China to ensure a particular political ideology, and the CAC, which has been given the responsibility to protect, supervise and administer cyber security issues in China. In addition, the MIIT has published implementing regulations that subject online information providers to potential liability for content included in their media and the actions of subscribers and others using their systems, including liability for violation of PRC laws prohibiting the distribution of content deemed to be socially destabilizing. The Ministry of Public Security has also from time to time prohibited the distribution over the internet of information which it believes to be socially destabilizing. In addition, the NRTA is involved in the supervising, administering and reviewing of the content and quality of radio and television programs and internet audio-visual programs. The MOCT is involved in guiding and administering the literary and artistic undertakings and artistic creation and production.
The Ministry of Public Security has the authority to require any local internet service provider to block any website maintained outside China at its sole discretion. The State Secrecy Bureau, which is directly responsible for the protection of state secrets of all PRC government and Chinese Communist Party organizations, is authorized to block any website it deems to be leaking state secrets or failing to meet the relevant regulations relating to the protection of state secrets in the distribution of online information. The term “state secrets” has been broadly interpreted by Chinese governmental authorities in the past. We may be liable under any of these pronouncements for content and materials posted, uploaded or transmitted by users on our platform. User-generated content is accessible on the NetEase websites and our other online and mobile platforms including NetEase News App and NetEase Cloud Music, such as content and materials posted or uploaded by users on message boards, online communities and social media platforms. We have implemented an efficient and thorough content screening and monitoring mechanism for NetEase Cloud Music and our other platforms which involve both automated filtering and manual review, to timely remove any inappropriate or illegal content, including interactive content on our platform. However, such procedures may not prevent all illegal or impropriate content or comments from being posted, and our editorial staff may fail to review and screen such content or comments effectively. Failure to identify and prevent illegal or inappropriate content from being distributed on our platform may subject us to liability. To the extent that PRC regulatory authorities find any content on our platform objectionable, they may require us to limit or eliminate the dissemination of such content on our platform in the form of take-down orders or otherwise. In addition, PRC laws and regulations are subject to interpretation by the relevant authorities, and it may not be possible to determine in all cases the types of content that could result in our liability as a platform operator.
In addition, under the relevant regulations, internet companies which provide bulletin board systems, chat rooms or similar services, such as our company, must apply for the approval of the State Secrecy Bureau. As the implementing rules of these regulations have not been issued, we do not know how or when we will be expected to comply, or how our business will be affected by the application of these regulations.
We face uncertainties with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the Guidelines to Anti-Monopoly in the Field of Internet Platforms.
The PRC Anti-monopoly Law, which took effect on August 1, 2008, prohibits monopolistic conduct such as entering into monopoly agreements, abusing market dominance and concentration of undertakings that may have the effect of eliminating or restricting competition. On February 7, 2021, the Anti-Monopoly Commission of the State Council promulgated the Guidelines to Anti-Monopoly in the Field of Internet Platforms, or the Anti-Monopoly Guidelines, which took effect on the same date and operate as a compliance guidance for platform economy operators under the existing PRC anti-monopoly laws and regulations. The Anti-Monopoly Guidelines aim at specifying some of the circumstances under which an activity of internet platforms may be identified as monopolistic conduct as well as setting out filing procedures for concentration of undertakings involving variable interest entities. The Anti-Monopoly Guidelines mainly covers five aspects, including general provisions, monopoly agreements, abusing market dominance, concentration of undertakings, and abusing of administrative powers eliminating or restricting competition.
Given the uncertainties of the interpretation and implementation of the Anti-Monopoly Guidelines and considering the evolving legislative activities and varied local implementation practices of anti-monopoly and competition laws and regulations in the PRC, we may be required to make expenditures and adjust our business practice to comply with existing or future laws and regulations, which may increase our costs and limit our ability to operate our business. In addition, failure or perceived failure to comply with Anti-Monopoly Guidelines or other anti-monopoly related laws and regulations may result in investigations or enforcement actions, litigation or claims against us and could have an adverse effect on our business, financial conditions and results of operations.
We may not be able to adequately protect our intellectual property and may be exposed to infringement claims by third parties.
We rely on a combination of copyright, trademark, patent and trade secrecy laws and contractual restrictions on disclosure to protect our intellectual property rights. Our efforts to protect our proprietary rights may not be effective in preventing unauthorized parties from copying or otherwise obtaining and using our technology or imitating our name, private label merchandise or other intellectual property. Monitoring unauthorized use of our intellectual property is difficult and costly, and we cannot be certain that the steps we take will effectively prevent misappropriation of our technology or other intellectual property.
From time to time, we may have to resort to litigation to enforce our intellectual property rights, which could result in substantial costs and diversion of our resources. In addition, our current and future business activities, including our portal service and private label merchandise, may infringe upon the proprietary rights of others, and third parties may assert infringement claims against us, including claims alleging, among other things, copyright, trademark or patent infringement. Third parties have initiated litigation against us for alleged infringement of their proprietary rights, and additional claims may arise in the future. In the event of a successful claim of infringement and our failure or inability to develop non-infringing technology or content or to license the infringed or similar technology or content on a timely basis, our business could suffer. Moreover, even if we are able to license the infringed or similar technology or content, license fees that we pay to licensors could be substantial or uneconomical. See Item 4.B. “Business Overview—Intellectual Property.”
We are subject to consumer protection laws that could require us to modify our current business practices and incur increased costs.
Our e-commerce business is subject to numerous PRC laws and regulations that regulate retailers generally or govern online retailers specifically, such as the Consumer Protection Law. If these regulations were to change or if we or our suppliers were to violate them, the costs of certain products or services could increase, or we could be subject to fines or penalties or suffer reputational harm, which could reduce demand for the products or services offered on our e-commerce platform and hurt our business and results of operations. For example, the amended Consumer Protection Law, which became effective in March 2014, strengthens the protection of consumers and imposes more stringent requirements and obligations on business operators, with a particular focus on businesses that operate via the Internet. Pursuant to the Consumer Protection Law, consumers are generally entitled to return goods purchased within seven days upon receipt without giving any reasons if the purchases are made through the Internet. Consumers whose interests have been harmed due to their purchase of goods or acceptance of services on e-commerce platforms may claim damages from sellers or service providers.
Laws and regulations regarding consumer protection, particularly those involving transactions conducted over the Internet, frequently change and are subject to interpretation. We are therefore unable to predict the ultimate cost of compliance of the relevant laws or regulations or their effect on our operations. We may be required to make significant expenditures or modify our business practices to comply with existing or future laws and regulations, which may increase our costs and materially limit our ability to operate our business.
Regulatory restrictions on financial transactions may adversely affect the operation and profitability of our business.
On June 14, 2010, the PBOC issued the Measures for the Administration of Non-financial Institutions Engaging in Payment and Settlement Services, or the PBOC Measures, which became effective on September 1, 2010 and has been revised on April 29, 2020, and require that non-financial institutions engaging in the business of effecting payments and settlements before September 1, 2010 obtain a permit from the PBOC by August 31, 2011 to continue operating their business. We currently operate an online payment platform used by both distributors of our prepaid points and end-users of our online services, which requires a permit under the PBOC Measures. In addition, on December 28, 2015, the PBOC issued a notice regarding the Administrative Measures for the Internet Payment Services of Non-banking Payment Institutions, or the PBOC Notice 43, which took effect on July 1, 2016. According to the PBOC Notice 43, a payment institution is required to follow the principles of “know your clients,” and maintain records on its clients using their real names when opening payment accounts for its clients. Pursuant to the PBOC Notice 43, a payment institution shall not engage in, including in a disguised form, such businesses as securities, insurance, credit loans, financing, wealth management, guarantee, trust, currency exchange, cash deposit and withdrawal services. In addition, a payment institution is required to, based on client identity, conduct affiliated management of all the payment accounts opened by the same client. On January 13, 2017, the PBOC issued the Notice of the PBOC on Matters concerning Implementing the Centralized Deposit of the Funds of Pending Payments of Clients of Payment Institutions, which requires that from April 17, 2017, payment institutions transfer a portion of customer reserve funds to a specifically designated bank account upon the request of the PBOC and that no interest be allowed to accrue upon the transferred customer reserve funds for the time being. On June 29, 2018, the PBOC issued a further notice, namely the Notice of the General Office of PBOC on Matters Concerning the Centralized Deposit of the Full Amount of Customer Reserve Funds by Payment Institutions, which requires payment institutions to cause up to 100% of the customer reserve funds to be transferred to the above-mentioned account. On January 19, 2021, the PBOC issued the Measures for Deposit and Management of Customer Reserve Funds by Non-bank Payment Institutions, or the Measures for Customer Reserve Funds, which became effective on March 1, 2021. The Measures for Customer Reserve Funds define “Clients’ Reserves” as funds actually received by non-bank payment institutions when processing payments for clients and payable upon clients’ order, which shall be fully deposited by the non-bank payment institutions into a dedicated deposit account held in the custody of banking institutions. The Measures for Customer Reserve Funds standardize the centralized deposit and management business of customer’s reserves after centralized deposit of reserves, further refine the provisions on deposit, use and transfer of reserves, clarify the corresponding reserve management responsibilities of the PBOC and its branches, clearing institutions and reserve banks, set punishment standards for violations of customer’s reserves and promote the healthy development of the industry health development. A six-month transitional period shall be set up since the implementation of the Measures for Customer Reserve Funds.
We are in compliance with the PBOC Notice 43 and the recent PBOC requirements to transfer our customer reserve funds to its designated bank account, however, we cannot predict how the regulations relating to financial transactions will evolve or be certain that we will be able to maintain compliance with all relevant regulations at a reasonable cost. Any inability to continue operating our current online payment platform would likely materially and adversely affect the operation and profitability of our business.
The uncertain legal environment in China could limit the legal protections available to you.
The Chinese legal system is a civil law system based on written statutes. Unlike common law systems, it is a system in which decided legal cases have less precedential value. In the late 1970s, the Chinese government began to promulgate a comprehensive system of laws and regulations governing economic matters. The overall effect of legislation enacted over the past 40 years has significantly enhanced the protections afforded to foreign invested enterprises in China. However, many of these laws, regulations and legal requirements are relatively recent and are evolving rapidly, and their interpretation and enforcement involve uncertainties. These uncertainties could limit the legal protections available to foreign investors.
Contract drafting, interpretation and enforcement in China involve significant uncertainty.
We have entered into numerous contracts governed by PRC law, many of which are material to our business. As compared with contracts in the United States, certain contracts governed by PRC law may contain less detail and may not be as comprehensive in defining contracting parties’ rights and obligations in some instances. As a result, those contracts are more vulnerable to disputes and legal challenges. In addition, contract interpretation and enforcement by the court in China is not as developed as in the United States, and the result of contract dispute in certain cases is subject to significant uncertainties. Therefore, we cannot assure you that we will not be subject to disputes under our material contracts, and if such disputes arise, we cannot assure you that we will prevail. Any dispute involving material contracts, even without merit in plaintiff’s regard, may materially and adversely affect our reputation and our business operations, and may cause the price of our ADSs and/or shares to decline.
Changes in China’s political and economic policies could harm our business.
The economy of China has historically been a planned economy subject to governmental plans and quotas and has, in certain aspects, been transitioning to a more market-oriented economy. Although we believe that the economic reform and the macroeconomic measures adopted by the Chinese government have had a positive effect on the economic development of China, we cannot predict the future direction of these economic reforms or the effects these measures may have on our business, financial position or results of operations. In addition, the Chinese economy differs from the economies of most countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD. These differences include:
As a result of these differences, our business may not develop in the same way or at the same rate as might be expected if the Chinese economy were similar to those of the OECD member countries.
Our business benefits from certain PRC government incentives. Expiration of, or changes to, these incentives and PRC tax laws could have a material adverse effect on our operating results.
Under China’s Enterprise Income Tax Law, the enterprise income tax, or EIT, rate payable by domestic and foreign-invested enterprises is 25.0%. Preferential tax treatments are granted to entities that conduct business in encouraged sectors and to entities that are classified as HNTEs, or “Software Enterprises” or “Key Software Enterprises,” whether such entities are foreign invested enterprises or domestic companies.
A number of our subsidiaries enjoy preferential tax rates by being recognized as an HNTE and/or a “Key Software Enterprise.” For example, Boguan, NetEase Hangzhou and certain other PRC subsidiaries were qualified as HNTEs and enjoyed a preferential tax rate of 15% for 2018, 2019 and 2020. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, Boguan, NetEase Hangzhou and certain other PRC subsidiaries were also qualified as Key Software Enterprises and enjoyed a further reduced preferential tax rate of 10% for 2017, 2018 and 2019. The related tax benefit was recorded in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. See Item 5.A. “Operating Results—Income Taxes.”
Although we will attempt to obtain or maintain similar preferential tax statuses for our subsidiaries in the future, we cannot assure you that we will obtain or maintain any particular preferential tax status, and typically the relevant government agencies do not confirm that we have obtained or maintained a particular tax status until late in a given tax year or the following tax year. The qualifications for HNTE or “Software Enterprise” or “Key Software Enterprise” status are subject to an annual assessment by the relevant government authorities in China, and the PRC policies on preferential tax treatments may change from time to time. For example, a circular jointly promulgated by the NDRC, STA and certain other government authorities on March 29, 2021 sets forth additional criteria for the “Key Software Enterprise” enjoying preferential tax rates, and provides that the qualifications for “Key Software Enterprise” shall be jointly approved by NDRC, STA and several other central governmental authorities from 2020. If the government authorities determine that we cannot meet the prescribed criteria for the “Key Software Enterprise”, we will not maintain the preferential tax status as a “Key Software Enterprise”. Without any preferential tax status, the standard EIT rate of 25.0% will apply. Moreover, if there are further changes to the relevant income tax laws and their implementation, our subsidiaries and VIEs may need to pay additional taxes, which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations.
We may be treated as a resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes under the Enterprise Income Tax Law, which may subject us to PRC income tax for our global income and result in dividends payable by us to our foreign investors, and gains on the sales of our ordinary shares or ADSs, becoming subject to taxes under PRC tax laws, which may materially reduce the value of your investment.
Under the Enterprise Income Tax Law, enterprises established outside of the PRC whose “de facto management bodies” are located in the PRC are considered “resident enterprises,” and will generally be subject to the uniform 25.0% EIT rate for their global income. Under the implementation rules of the Enterprise Income Tax Law, “de facto management body” is defined as the body that has material and overall management control over the business, personnel, accounts and properties of the enterprise. In April 2009, the PRC tax authority promulgated a circular to clarify the criteria for determining whether the “de facto management bodies” are located within the PRC for enterprises established outside of the PRC that are controlled by entities established within the PRC. However, the relevant laws and regulations remain unclear regarding treatment of an enterprise established outside the PRC that is not controlled by entities established within the PRC.
Some of our management is currently located in the PRC. Accordingly, we may be considered a “resident enterprise” and may therefore be subject to the EIT rate of 25.0% of our global income, and as a result, the amount of dividends we can pay to our shareholders could be reduced. We cannot confirm whether we will be considered a “resident enterprise” because the implementation rules are unclear at this time.
Under the implementation rules of the Enterprise Income Tax Law, dividends paid to “non-resident enterprises” by “resident enterprises” on profits earned after January 1, 2008 are regarded as income from “sources within the PRC” and therefore subject to a 10.0% withholding income tax, while dividends on profits earned before January 1, 2008 are not subject to the withholding income tax. Similarly, gains realized on the transfer of ordinary shares or ADSs by “non-resident enterprises” are also subject to a 10.0% PRC EIT if such gains are regarded as income derived from sources within the PRC. A lower withholding income tax rate is applied if the “non-resident enterprises” are registered in Hong Kong or other jurisdictions that have a favorable tax treaty arrangement with China. Nevertheless, the Announcement on Issues Concerning “Beneficial Owners” in Tax Treaties, or the STA Circular 9, which was issued on February 3, 2018 by the STA and effective on April 1, 2018, provides that a “non-resident enterprise” which does not engage in substantive business activities may not be deemed to be a beneficial owner that is entitled to the above-mentioned reduced income tax rate of 5%. It is unclear at this stage whether STA Circular 9 applies to dividends from our PRC subsidiaries paid to us through our Hong Kong subsidiaries. It is possible that under STA Circular 9 our Hong Kong subsidiaries would not be considered to be the beneficial owners of any such dividends, and that, if such dividends are subject to withholding, such withholding rate would be 10% rather than the favorable 5% rate generally applicable under the tax treaty between mainland China and Hong Kong.
Because we may be treated as a “resident enterprise,” any dividends paid to the investors which are considered “non-resident enterprises” and individual shareholders who are non-PRC residents may be subject to withholding income tax, and gains realized on the transfer of our ordinary shares or ADSs by such investors may be subject to PRC income tax if such dividends or gains are deemed to be from PRC sources, which may adversely and materially affect the value of the investment in our shares or ADSs. The tax rate for gains and dividends is 10% for “non-resident enterprise” shareholders and 20% for non-PRC individual shareholders, subject to any reduction or exemption set forth in applicable tax treaties. However, it is unclear whether in practice non-PRC shareholders would be able to obtain the benefits of income tax treaties entered into between PRC and their countries or areas.
We and our shareholders face uncertainties with respect to indirect transfers of equity interests in PRC resident enterprises by a non-PRC company.
On February 3, 2015, the STA issued the Bulletin on Issues of Enterprise Income Tax on Indirect Transfers of Assets by Non-PRC Resident Enterprises, or Bulletin 7, which has been further amended by the Announcement on Issues Concerning the Withholding of Enterprise Income Tax at Source on Non-PRC Resident Enterprises, or Bulletin 37, issued by the STA on October 17, 2017 and amended on June 15, 2018. Pursuant to these bulletins, subject to a safe harbor for purchase and sale of equity securities through a public securities market, an “indirect transfer” of assets, including equity interests in a PRC resident enterprise, by non-PRC resident enterprises may be re-characterized and treated as a direct transfer of PRC taxable assets, if the arrangement does not have a reasonable commercial purpose and was established for the purpose of avoiding payment of PRC enterprise income tax. As a result, gains derived from this indirect transfer may be subject to PRC enterprise income tax.
Fluctuation in Renminbi exchange rates could adversely affect the value of our ADSs and any cash dividend declared on them.
The value of the RMB against the U.S. dollar and other currencies is affected by changes in China’s political and economic conditions and by China’s foreign exchange policies, among other things. On July 21, 2005, the PRC government changed its policy of pegging the value of the RMB to the U.S. dollar, and the RMB appreciated more than 20% against the U.S. dollar over the following three years. Between July 2008 and June 2010, this appreciation halted and the exchange rate between the RMB and the U.S. dollar remained within a narrow band. Then, the RMB had appreciated more than 10% since June 2010 until it began to depreciate against the U.S. dollar in January 2014. Between January 2014 and December 2020, the RMB depreciated against the U.S. dollar by approximately 7%. It is difficult to predict how market forces or PRC or U.S. government policy may impact the exchange rate between the RMB and the U.S. dollar in the future. In addition, there remains significant international pressure on the PRC government to adopt a substantial liberalization of its currency policy, which could result in more uncertainties in the value of the RMB against the U.S. dollar.
Our revenues are primarily denominated in Renminbi, and any significant depreciation of the RMB may affect the value of, and dividends (if any) payable on, our ordinary shares or ADSs in U.S. dollar terms. For example, to the extent that we need to convert U.S. dollars into RMB for our operations, appreciation of the RMB against the U.S. dollar would have an adverse effect on the RMB amount we would receive from the conversion. Conversely, if we decide to convert our RMB into U.S. dollars for the purpose of making payments for dividends on our ordinary shares, repaying our U.S. dollar denominated loans or other payment obligations or for other business purposes, appreciation of the U.S. dollar against the RMB would have a negative effect on the U.S. dollar amount available to us. In addition, appreciation or depreciation in the value of the RMB relative to U.S. dollars would affect our financial results reported in U.S. dollar terms regardless of any underlying change in our business or results of operations. In 2020, we experienced a RMB3.1 billion foreign exchange loss mainly due to the RMB appreciating against the U.S. dollar by nearly 7%. This loss had a significant effect on our profit and our cash dividend.
Restrictions on currency exchange may limit our ability to utilize our revenues effectively.
Most of our revenues and operating expenses are denominated in Renminbi. The Renminbi is currently freely convertible under the “current account” which includes dividends, trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, but not under the “capital account” which includes foreign direct investment and loans.
Under existing PRC foreign exchange regulations, payments of current account items, including payment of dividends, interest payments and trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, can be made in foreign currencies without prior approval of SAFE, by complying with certain procedural requirements. Our PRC subsidiaries and affiliates may also retain foreign exchange in its current account to satisfy foreign exchange liabilities or to pay dividends.
Since a significant amount of our future revenues will be denominated in Renminbi, the existing and any future restrictions on currency exchange may limit our ability to utilize revenues generated in Renminbi to fund our business activities outside China, if any, or expenditures denominated in foreign currencies. In order to limit the flow of capital out of China, the overall current regulatory environment relating to foreign exchange controls in China suggests that, as a matter of practice, SAFE has been making it increasingly difficult to obtain foreign exchange approvals for offshore dividend payments or capital account settlement.
In addition, foreign exchange transactions under the capital account are subject to limitations and require registration with or approval by the relevant PRC governmental authorities. In particular, any transfer of funds from us to any of our PRC subsidiaries or VIEs, either as a shareholder loan or as an increase in registered capital, is subject to certain statutory limit requirements and registration or approval of the relevant PRC governmental authorities, including the relevant administration of foreign exchange and/or the relevant examining and approval authority. Our ability to use the U.S. dollar proceeds of the sale of our equity or debt to finance our business activities conducted through our PRC subsidiaries or VIEs will depend on our ability to obtain these governmental registrations or approvals. In addition, because of the regulatory issues related to foreign currency loans to, and foreign investment in, domestic PRC enterprises, we may not be able to finance the operations of our PRC subsidiaries or VIEs by loans or capital contributions. We cannot assure you that we can obtain these governmental registrations or approvals on a timely basis, if at all. Any future restrictions imposed by SAFE or tightened foreign exchange control by SAFE as a matter of practice may adversely affect our ability to utilize our revenues effectively and pay dividends to our shareholders.
Failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding the registration requirements for employee equity incentive plans may subject our PRC citizen employees or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
On February 15, 2012, SAFE issued the Notices on Issues Concerning the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plan of Overseas-Listed Company, or the Stock Incentive Plan Rule. Under the Stock Incentive Plan Rule, PRC citizens who are granted share options or other employee equity incentive awards by an overseas publicly-listed company are required, through a qualified PRC agent or a PRC subsidiary of such overseas publicly-listed company, to register with SAFE and complete certain other procedures related to the share options or other employee equity incentive plans. If we or such PRC participants fail to comply with these regulations, we or such PRC participants may be subject to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
The Chinese government has strengthened the regulation of investments made by Chinese residents in offshore companies and reinvestments in China made by these offshore companies. Our business may be adversely affected by these restrictions.
The SAFE has adopted certain regulations that require registration with, and approval from, Chinese government authorities in connection with direct or indirect control of an offshore entity by Chinese residents. The term “control” under SAFE regulation is broadly defined as the operation rights, beneficiary rights or decision-making rights acquired by PRC residents in the offshore special purpose vehicles or PRC companies by means of acquisition, trust, proxy, voting rights, repurchase, convertible bonds or other arrangements. The SAFE regulations retroactively require registration of investments in non-Chinese companies previously made by Chinese residents. In particular, the SAFE regulations require Chinese residents to register with SAFE information about offshore companies in which they have directly or indirectly invested and to make follow-up registrations in connection with certain material transactions involving such offshore companies, such as mergers or division, capital increases and decreases, in equity transfer or exchange. A newly established enterprise in China which receives foreign investments is also required to provide detailed information about its controlling shareholders and to certify whether it is directly or indirectly controlled by a domestic entity or resident.
In the event that a Chinese shareholder with a direct or indirect stake in an offshore parent company fails to make the requisite SAFE registration, the Chinese subsidiaries of such offshore parent company may be prohibited from making distributions of profit to the offshore parent and from paying the offshore parent proceeds from any reduction in capital, share transfer or liquidation in respect of the Chinese subsidiaries. Further, failure to comply with the various SAFE registration requirements described above can result in liability under Chinese law for foreign exchange evasion.
These regulations may have a significant impact on our present and future structuring and investment. We have requested our shareholders who to our knowledge are PRC residents to make the necessary applications, registrations and amendments as required under these regulations. We intend to take all necessary measures to ensure that all required applications and registrations will be duly made and all other requirements will be met. We further intend to structure and execute our future offshore acquisitions in a manner consistent with these regulations and any other relevant legislation. However, because it is presently uncertain how the SAFE regulations, and any future legislation concerning offshore or cross-border transactions, will be interpreted and implemented by the relevant government authorities in connection with our future offshore financings or acquisitions, we cannot provide any assurances that we will be able to comply with, qualify under, or obtain any approvals required by the regulations or other legislation. Furthermore, we cannot assure you that any PRC shareholders of our company or any PRC company into which we invest will be able to comply with those requirements. The inability of our company or any PRC shareholder to secure required approvals or registrations in connection with our future offshore financings or acquisitions may subject us to legal sanctions, restrict our ability to pay dividends from our Chinese subsidiaries to our offshore holding company, and restrict our overseas or cross-border investment activities or affect our ownership structure.
RISKS RELATED TO OUR ADSs AND SHARES
The trading price of our ADSs has been and is likely to continue to be, and the trading price of Shares can be, volatile, which could result in substantial losses to holders of our ADSs and/or shares.
The trading price of our ADSs has been and is likely to continue to be volatile and could fluctuate widely in response to a variety of factors, many of which are beyond our control. The trading price of our shares, likewise, can be volatile for similar or different reasons. For example, the trading prices of our ADSs ranged from US$53.17 to US$103.53 per ADS in 2020 and the trading prices of our ordinary shares ranged from HK$125.00 to HK$167.00 per ordinary share in 2020. In addition, the performance and fluctuation of the market prices of other companies with business operations located mainly in China, especially internet and technology companies that have listed their securities in Hong Kong and/or the United States, may affect the overall investor attitude towards Chinese public companies. The securities of some of these companies have experienced and may continue to experience significant volatility, resulting from, among other things, underperformance and deteriorating financial results, negative news or perceptions about inadequate corporate governance practices, and fraudulent behaviors of such companies. Consequently, the trading performance of our shares and/or ADSs may be adversely and materially affected, regardless of our actual operation performance.
In addition to market and industry factors, the price and trading volume for our shares and/or ADSs may be highly volatile for factors specific to our operation, including the following:
|●||variations in our results of operations that are not in line with market or research analyst expectations or changes in financial estimates by securities research analysts;|
|●||announcements of studies and reports relating to the quality of our product and service offerings or those of our competitors;|
|●||changes in the economic performance or market valuations of other market players in our industries;|
|●||announcements made by us or our competitors of new features or functionalities or other product and service offerings, investments, acquisitions, strategic relationships, joint ventures or capital commitments;|
|●||press and other reports, whether or not true, about our business, including negative reports published by short sellers, regardless of their veracity or materiality to us;|
|●||litigation and regulatory allegations or proceedings that involve us and our directors;|
|●||additions to or departures of our management;|
|●||political or market instability or disruptions, and actual or perceived social unrest in the markets where we operate;|
|●||fluctuations of exchange rates among the Renminbi, the Hong Kong dollar and the U.S. dollar;|
|●||sales or perceived potential sales or other dispositions of existing or additional ADSs or other equity or equity-linked securities;|
|●||any actual or alleged illegal acts of our senior management or other key employees;|
|●||any share repurchase program; and|
|●||regulatory developments affecting us or our industry, customers, licensors and other suppliers.|
In particular, our revenues and results of operations have varied significantly in the past and may continue to fluctuate in the future, which may adversely impact the trading price of our ADSs and shares. Historically, usage of our online games has generally increased around the Chinese holidays, in particular winter and summer school holidays. Our Youdao platform tends to have larger student enrollments in the second and fourth quarters when it offers more courses including, for example, test preparation courses for school exams in the spring and fall semesters and China’s national college entrance exams, national postgraduate entrance exams and college English tests, compared to the rest of the year. Revenues from certain of our innovative businesses and others, including advertising services, have followed the same general seasonal trend throughout each year, with the first quarter of the year being the weakest quarter due to the Chinese New Year holiday and the traditional close of customers’ annual budgets, and the fourth quarter as the strongest. Our e-commerce business revenues are relatively lower during the Chinese New Year holiday season in the first quarter of each year, while sales in the fourth quarter are higher than each of the preceding three quarters due to a variety of promotional activities conducted by retail and e-commerce businesses in China. Accordingly, you should not rely on quarter-to-quarter comparisons of our results of operations as an indication of our future performance. It is possible that future fluctuations may cause our results of operations to be below the expectations of market analysts and investors. This could cause the trading price of our shares, ADSs or any other securities of ours which may become publicly traded to decline.
Furthermore, the stock market in general experiences price and volume fluctuations that are often unrelated or disproportionate to the operating performance of companies like us, such as the large decline in share prices in the United States in early 2020. These market and industry fluctuations may significantly affect the trading price of our shares and/or ADSs. In the past, following periods of instability in the market price of a company’s securities, shareholders have often instituted securities class action suits against that company.
Substantial future sales or perceived potential sales of our shares, ADSs, or other equity or equity-linked securities in the public market could cause the price of our shares and/or ADSs to decline.
Sales of our shares, ADSs, or other equity or equity-linked securities in the public market, or the perception that these sales could occur, could cause the market price of our shares and/or ADSs to decline significantly. All of our shares represented by ADSs were freely transferable by persons other than our affiliates without restriction or additional registration under the U.S. Securities Act. The shares held by our affiliates are also available for sale, subject to volume and other restrictions as applicable under Rule 144 of the U.S. Securities Act, under trading plans adopted pursuant to Rule 10b5-1 or otherwise.
Divesture in the future of our shares and/or ADSs by shareholders, the announcement of any plan to divest our shares and/or ADS, or hedging activity by third-party financial institutions in connection with similar derivative or other financing arrangements entered into by shareholders, could cause the price of our shares and/or ADSs to decline.
Furthermore, although all of our directors and executive officers have agreed to a lock-up of their shares, any major disposal of our shares and/or ADSs by any of them upon expiration of the relevant lock-up periods (or the perception that these disposals may occur upon the expiration of the lock-up period) may cause the prevailing market price of our shares and/or ADSs to fall which could negatively impact our ability to raise equity capital in the future.
The different characteristics of the capital markets in the United States and Hong Kong may negatively affect the trading prices of our shares and/or ADSs.
We are subject to Hong Kong and U.S. listing and regulatory requirements concurrently. The Nasdaq and Hong Kong Stock Exchange have different trading hours, trading characteristics (including trading volume and liquidity), trading and listing rules, and investor bases (including different levels of retail and institutional participation). As a result of these differences, the trading prices of our shares and our ADSs may not be the same, even allowing for currency differences. Fluctuations in the price of our ADSs due to circumstances peculiar to the U.S. capital markets could materially and adversely affect the price of the shares, or vice versa. Certain events having significant negative impact specifically on the U.S. capital markets may result in a decline in the trading price of our shares notwithstanding that such event may not impact the trading prices of securities listed in Hong Kong generally or to the same extent, or vice versa. Because of the different characteristics of the U.S. and Hong Kong capital markets, the historical market prices of our ADSs may not be indicative of the trading performance of our shares, and vice versa.
Exchange between our ADSs and shares may adversely affect the liquidity and/or trading price of each other.
Subject to compliance with U.S. securities law and the terms of the Deposit Agreement, any holder of ADSs may withdraw the underlying shares represented by the ADSs pursuant to the terms of the Deposit Agreement for trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Holders of our shares may also deposit shares with the depositary in exchange for the issuance of our ADSs. In the event that a substantial number of ADSs are deposited with the depositary in exchange for shares or vice versa, the liquidity and trading price of our ADSs on Nasdaq and shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange may be adversely affected.
The time required for the exchange between ADSs and shares might be longer than expected and investors might not be able to settle or effect any sale of their securities during this period, and the exchange of shares into ADSs involves costs.
There is no direct trading or settlement between Nasdaq and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on which our ADSs and the shares are respectively traded. In addition, the time differences between Hong Kong and New York and unforeseen market circumstances or other factors may delay the withdrawal of shares underlying the ADSs or the deposit of shares in exchange for ADSs. Investors will be prevented from settling or effecting the sale of their securities during such periods of delay. In addition, there is no assurance that any exchange of ADSs into shares (and vice versa) will be completed in accordance with the timelines investors may anticipate.
Furthermore, the depositary for the ADSs is entitled to charge holders fees for various services including for the issuance of ADSs upon deposit of shares, cancelation of ADSs, distributions of cash dividends or other cash distributions, distributions of ADSs pursuant to share dividends or other free share distributions, distributions of securities other than ADSs and annual service fees. As a result, shareholders who exchange shares into ADSs, and vice versa, may not achieve the level of economic return the shareholders may anticipate.
As a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, we are permitted to adopt certain home country practices in relation to corporate governance matters that differ significantly from Nasdaq rules.
As a Cayman Islands exempted company listed on Nasdaq, we are subject to Nasdaq rules. However, Nasdaq rules permit a foreign private issuer like us to follow the corporate governance practices of its home country. Certain corporate governance practices in the Cayman Islands, which is our home country, may differ significantly from Nasdaq rules applicable to U.S. domestic issuers. For instance, we are not required to:
|●||have a majority of the board be independent (although all of the members of the audit committee must be independent under the U.S. Exchange Act);|
|●||have a compensation committee or a nominating or corporate governance committee consisting entirely of independent directors;|
|●||have regularly scheduled executive sessions for non-management directors; or|
|●||have executive sessions of solely independent directors each year.|
We have relied on and intend to continue to rely on some of these exemptions. Specifically, our board of directors adopted our 2009 RSU Plan and 2019 RSU Plan without seeking shareholder approval which is generally required under Rule 5635(c) of the Nasdaq Marketplace Rules. There is no specific requirement under Cayman Islands law for shareholder approval to be obtained with respect to the establishment or amendment of equity compensation arrangements. In situations where we choose to follow home country practices, our shareholders may be afforded less protection than they otherwise would under Nasdaq rules applicable to U.S. domestic issuers.
We are a foreign private issuer within the meaning of the rules under the U.S. Exchange Act, and as such we are exempt from certain provisions applicable to U.S. domestic public companies.
Because we qualify as a foreign private issuer under the U.S. Exchange Act, we are exempt from certain provisions of the securities rules and regulations in the United States that are applicable to U.S. domestic issuers, including:
|●||the rules under the U.S. Exchange Act requiring the filing with the SEC of quarterly reports on Form 10-Q or current reports on Form 8-K;|
|●||the sections of the U.S. Exchange Act regulating the solicitation of proxies, consents, or authorizations in respect of a security registered under the U.S. Exchange Act;|
|●||the sections of the U.S. Exchange Act requiring insiders to file public reports of their stock ownership and trading activities and liability for insiders who profit from trades made in a short period of time; and|
|●||the selective disclosure rules by issuers of material nonpublic information under Regulation FD.|
We are required to file an annual report on Form 20-F within four months of the end of each fiscal year. In addition, we intend to continue to publish our results on a quarterly basis as press releases, distributed pursuant to Nasdaq rules. Press releases relating to financial results and material events will also be furnished to the SEC on Form 6-K. However, the information we are required to file with or furnish to the SEC will be less extensive and less timely compared to that required to be filed with the SEC by U.S. domestic issuers. As a result, holders of our ADSs may be afforded less protection or information than they would under the U.S. Exchange Act rules applicable to U.S. domestic companies.
We are a company listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange under Chapter 19C and as such are not subject to certain provisions of the Hong Kong Listing Rules.
As a company listed under Chapter 19C of the Hong Kong Listing Rules, we have adopted different practices as to certain matters as compared with many other companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. We are not subject to certain provisions of the Hong Kong Listing Rules pursuant to Rule 19C.11, including, among others, rules on notifiable transactions, connected transactions, share option schemes, content of financial statements as well as certain other continuing obligations.
In addition, we have been granted a number of waivers and/or exemptions from strict compliance with, among others, the Hong Kong Listing Rules and the SFO. We have also been granted a ruling from the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong, as a result of which the Takeovers Codes do not apply to us. Therefore, we will adopt different practices as to those matters as compared with other companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that do not enjoy those exemptions or waivers. However, if 55% or more of the total worldwide trading volume, by dollar value, of our shares and ADSs over our most recent fiscal year takes place on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange will regard us as having a dual primary listing in Hong Kong and we will no longer enjoy certain exemptions or waivers from strict compliance with the requirements under the Hong Kong Listing Rules, the Takeovers Codes and the SFO, which could result in our incurring of incremental compliance costs.
The voting rights of holders of ADSs are limited by the terms of the Deposit Agreement.
Holders of ADSs may exercise their voting rights with respect to the underlying shares represented by their ADSs only in accordance with the provisions of the Deposit Agreement. Upon receipt of voting instructions from them in the manner set forth in the Deposit Agreement, the depositary will endeavor, in so far as practicable, to vote the underlying shares represented by their ADSs in accordance with these instructions. However, the depositary and its agents may not be able to send voting instructions to holders of ADSs or carry out their voting instructions in a timely manner. We will make all reasonable efforts to cause the depositary to extend voting rights to holders of ADSs in a timely manner, but they may not receive the voting materials in time to ensure that they can instruct the depositary to vote the underlying shares represented by their ADSs. Furthermore, the depositary and its agents will not be responsible for any failure to carry out any instructions to vote, for the manner in which any vote is cast or for the effect of any vote. As a result, holders of ADSs may not be able to exercise their rights to vote and they may lack recourse if the underlying shares represented by their ADSs are not voted as they requested.
Except in limited circumstances, the depositary will give us a discretionary proxy to vote our shares underlying the ADSs if holders of these ADSs do not give voting instructions to the depositary, which could adversely affect the interests of holders of shares and/or the ADSs.
Under the Deposit Agreement, the depositary will give us a discretionary proxy to vote the shares underlying the ADSs at shareholders’ meetings if holders of these ADSs do not give voting instructions to the depositary, unless:
|●||we have instructed the depositary that we do not wish a discretionary proxy to be given;|
|●||we have informed the depositary that there is substantial opposition as to a matter to be voted on at the meeting;|
|●||a matter to be voted on at the meeting would have a material adverse impact on shareholders; or|
|●||voting at the meeting is made on a show of hands.|
The effect of this discretionary proxy is that, if holders of ADSs fail to give voting instructions to the depositary, they cannot prevent our shares underlying their ADSs from being voted, except under the circumstances described above. This may make it more difficult for shareholders to influence our management. Holders of our shares are not subject to this discretionary proxy.
Holders of ADSs may be subject to limitations on transfer of their ADSs.
ADSs are transferable on the books of the depositary. However, the depositary may close its transfer books at any time or from time to time when it deems expedient in connection with the performance of its duties. In addition, the depositary may refuse to deliver, transfer or register transfers of ADSs generally when our books or the books of the depositary are closed, or at any time if we or the depositary deems it advisable to do so because of any requirement of law or of any government or governmental body, or under any provision of the Deposit Agreement, or for any other reason.
Holders of ADSs may not receive distributions on our shares if the depositary decides it is impractical or unlawful to make such distributions.
The depositary has agreed to pay cash to holders of ADSs to the extent that we decide to distribute cash dividends or other cash distributions on our shares or other deposited securities. In the second quarter of 2019, our board of directors determined that quarterly dividends will be set at an amount equivalent to approximately 20%-30% of our anticipated net income after tax in each fiscal quarter. Our board of directors also approved an additional special dividend equivalent to US$0.69 per ADS in the third quarter of 2019. However, the determination to make dividend distributions and the amount of such distributions in any particular quarter, if any, will be made at the discretion of our board of directors and will be based upon our operations and earnings, cash flow, financial condition and other relevant factors. This dividend policy can be changed or terminated at any time in the discretion of the board of directors.
To the extent that there is a distribution in shares, rights or other securities and properties, the depositary has agreed to distribute to holders of ADSs the shares, rights or other distributions it or the custodian receives on our shares or other deposited securities after deducting its fees and expenses. ADS holders will receive these distributions in proportion to the number of shares their ADSs represent. However, the depositary may, at its discretion, decide that it is impractical to make a distribution available to holders of ADSs. For example, it would be unlawful to make a distribution to a holder of ADSs if it consists of securities that require registration under the U.S. Securities Act but that are not properly registered or distributed pursuant to an applicable exemption from registration. We have no obligation to take any other action to permit the distribution of shares, rights or anything else to holders of ADSs. This means that holders of ADSs may not receive the distributions we make on our shares if it is impractical for us to make them available. These restrictions may materially reduce the value of the ADSs.
If we fail to maintain an effective system of internal control over financial reporting, we may lose investor confidence in the reliability of our financial statements which in turn could negatively impact the trading price of our shares and/or ADSs or otherwise harm our reputation.
The SEC, as required under Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, has adopted rules requiring public companies to include a report of management on the effectiveness of such companies’ internal control over financial reporting in their respective annual reports. In addition, an independent registered public accounting firm for a public company may be required to issue an attestation report on the effectiveness of such company’s internal control over financial reporting.
Our management conducted an evaluation of the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting and concluded that our internal control over financial reporting was effective as of December 31, 2020. Our independent registered public accounting firm has also, in its audit report, concluded that our internal control over financial reporting was effective in all material aspects as of December 31, 2020. Please refer to Item 15 “Controls and Procedures.” However, if we fail to maintain effective internal control over financial reporting in the future, our management and our independent registered public accounting firm may not be able to conclude that we have effective internal control over financial reporting in accordance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Moreover, effective internal control over financial reporting is necessary for us to produce reliable financial reports. As a result, any failure to maintain effective internal control over financial reporting could result in the loss of investor confidence in the reliability of our financial statements, which in turn could negatively impact the trading price of our shares and/or ADSs or otherwise harm our reputation. Furthermore, we may need to incur additional costs and use additional management and other resources in an effort to comply with Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and other requirements going forward.
Our auditor, like other independent registered public accounting firms operating in China, is not permitted to be subject to inspection by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, and consequently you are deprived of the benefits of such inspection. Under the recently passed Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, our ADSs may be delisted from Nasdaq if the PCAOB continues to be unable to inspect our independent registered public accounting firm in the next three years. In addition, various legislative and regulatory developments related to U.S.-listed China-based companies due to lack of PCAOB inspection and other developments may have a material adverse impact on our listing and trading in the U.S. and the trading prices of our ADSs.
Our auditor, the independent registered public accounting firm that issued the audit report included elsewhere in this annual report, as an auditor of companies that are registered with the SEC and traded publicly in the United States and a firm registered with the U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, or PCAOB, is subject to the laws in the United States pursuant to which the PCAOB conducts regular inspections to assess its compliance with the applicable professional standards. Our auditor is located in, and organized under the laws of, the PRC, which is a jurisdiction where the PCAOB has been unable to conduct inspections without the approval of the Chinese authorities.
In May 2013, the PCAOB announced that it had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding on Enforcement Cooperation, or the MOU, with the CSRC, and the PRC Ministry of Finance, or the MOF. The MOU establishes a cooperative framework between the parties for the production and exchange of audit documents relevant to investigations in the United States and the PRC. The PCAOB continues to engage in discussions with the CSRC and the MOF to permit joint inspections in China of audit firms that are registered with the PCAOB and audit China-based companies that trade on U.S. exchanges. However, the implementation procedures of the MOU remain uncertain.
In December 2018, the SEC and the PCAOB issued a joint statement highlighting continued challenges faced by the U.S. regulators in their oversight of financial statement audits of U.S.-listed companies with significant operations in China. On April 21, 2020, the SEC and the PCAOB issued another joint statement reiterating the greater risk that disclosures will be insufficient in many emerging markets, including China, compared to those made by U.S. domestic companies. In discussing the specific issues related to the greater risk, the statement again highlights the PCAOB’s inability to inspect audit work paper and practices of accounting firms in China, with respect to their audit work of U.S. reporting companies.
In June 2020, the U.S. President issued a memorandum ordering the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, or the PWG, to submit a report to the President within 60 days of the memorandum that includes recommendations for actions that can be taken by the executive branch and by the SEC or the PCAOB on Chinese companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges and their audit firms. In August 2020, the PWG released the report. In particular, with respect to jurisdictions that do not grant the PCAOB sufficient access to fulfill its statutory mandate, or NCJs, the PWG recommended that enhanced listing standards be applied to companies from NCJs for seeking initial listing and remaining listed on U.S. stock exchanges. Under the enhanced listing standards, if the PCAOB does not have access to work papers of the principal audit firm located in a NCJ for the audit of a U.S.-listed company as a result of governmental restrictions, the U.S.-listed company may satisfy this standard by providing a co-audit from an audit firm with comparable resources and experience where the PCAOB determines that it has sufficient access to the firm’s audit work papers and practices to inspect the co-audit (however, there is currently no legal framework under which such a co-audit could be conducted for a company in China without prior governmental approval). The report recommended a transition period until January 1, 2022 before the new listing standards apply to companies already listed on U.S. stock exchanges. Under the PWG recommendations, if we fail to meet the enhanced listing standards before January 1, 2022, we could face de-listing from the Nasdaq, deregistration from the SEC and/or other risks, which may materially and adversely affect, or effectively terminate, our ADS trading in the United States. There were recent media reports about the SEC’s proposed rulemaking in this regard. It is uncertain whether the PWG recommendations will be adopted, in whole or in part, and the impact of any new rule on us cannot be estimated at this time.
This lack of PCAOB inspections in China prevents the PCAOB from fully evaluating audits and quality control procedures of our independent registered public accounting firm. As a result, we and our investors are deprived of the benefits of such PCAOB inspections. The inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections of auditors in China makes it more difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of our independent registered public accounting firm’s audit procedures or quality control procedures as compared to auditors outside of China that are subject to PCAOB inspections. In addition, the SEC may initiate proceedings against our independent registered public accounting firm, whether in connection with an audit of our company or other China-based companies, which could result in the imposition of penalties against our independent registered public accounting firm, such as suspension of its ability to practice before the SEC. All of these could cause investors and potential investors in us to lose confidence in our audit procedures and reported financial information and the quality of our financial statements.
As part of a continued regulatory focus in the United States on access to audit and other information currently protected by national law, in particular China’s, in June 2019, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced bills in both houses of Congress that would require the SEC to maintain a list of issuers for which the PCAOB is not able to inspect or investigate an auditor report issued by a foreign public accounting firm. The Ensuring Quality Information and Transparency for Abroad-Based Listings on our Exchanges (EQUITABLE) Act prescribes increased disclosure requirements for such issuers and, beginning in 2025, the delisting from national securities exchanges such as Nasdaq of issuers included for three consecutive years on the SEC’s list. On May 20, 2020, the U.S. Senate passed S. 945, the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, or the Act. The Act was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 2, 2020. The Act was signed into law by the president of the United States on December 19, 2020. In essence, the Act requires the SEC to prohibit foreign companies from listing securities on U.S. securities exchanges if a company retains a foreign accounting firm that cannot be inspected by the PCAOB for three consecutive years, beginning in 2021. On March 24, 2021, the SEC adopted interim final rules relating to the implementation of certain disclosure and documentation requirements of the Act. We will be required to comply with these rules if the SEC identifies us as having a “non-inspection” year under a process to be subsequently established by the SEC. The SEC is assessing how to implement other requirements of the Act, including the listing and trading prohibition requirements described above. The enactment of the Act and any additional rulemaking efforts to increase U.S. regulatory access to audit information in China could cause investor uncertainty for affected SEC registrants, including us, the market price of our ADSs could be materially adversely affected, and we could be delisted if we are unable to meet the PCAOB inspection requirement in time. Our ordinary shares are currently listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. If we are delisted from the Nasdaq, the conversion of ADSs and transfer of the ordinary shares to Hong Kong will necessitate time and certain expenses. The trading price of our ordinary shares may be adversely affected as a result of a substantial number of ADSs being converted to ordinary shares, and there can be no assurance that an active trading market for ordinary shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange will be sustained.
Our audit committee is aware of the Act and regularly communicates with our independent auditor to monitor developments in the rulemaking.
We may be adversely affected by the outcome of the administrative proceedings brought by the SEC against the Big Four PRC-based accounting firms.
In December 2012, the SEC brought administrative proceedings against the Chinese affiliates of the “big four” accounting firms (the “Big Four PRC-based Accounting Firms”), including our independent registered public accounting firm, alleging that these accounting firms had violated U.S. securities laws and the SEC’s rules and regulations thereunder by failing to provide to the SEC the firms’ audit papers and other documents related to certain PRC-based companies that are publicly traded in the United States.
In January 2014, the administrative law judge presiding over the matter reached an initial decision that the Big Four PRC-based Accounting Firms had each violated the SEC’s rules of practice by failing to produce the audit work papers and related documents directly to the SEC. The initial decision further determined that each of the firms should be censured and barred from practicing before the SEC for a period of six months.
In February 2015, the Big Four PRC-based Accounting Firms each agreed to a censure and to pay a fine to the SEC to settle the dispute and avoid suspension of their ability to practice before the SEC and to audit U.S.-listed companies. The settlement required the Big Four PRC-based Accounting Firms to follow detailed procedures and to seek to provide the SEC with access to these firms’ audit documents via the CSRC. Under the terms of the settlement, the underlying proceeding against the Big Four PRC-based Accounting Firms was deemed dismissed with prejudice four years after entry of the settlement. The four-year anniversary occurred on February 6, 2019. While we cannot predict if the SEC will further challenge the Big Four PRC-based Accounting Firms’ compliance with U.S. law in connection with U.S. regulatory requests for audit work papers or if the results of such a challenge would result in the SEC imposing penalties such as suspensions, if the Big Four PRC-based Accounting Firms are subject to additional remedial measures, we may not be able to continue to meet our reporting obligations under the Exchange Act, which may ultimately result in our deregistration by the SEC and delisting from the Nasdaq, in which case our market capitalization may decline sharply and the value of your investment in our ADSs and shares may be materially and adversely affected.
Holders of our ADSs and shares may have difficulty effecting service of process and enforcing judgments obtained against us and our management, the ability of U.S. authorities to bring actions in the PRC may also be limited, and our Articles of Association include certain provisions that may be different from common practices in Hong Kong.
We are a Cayman Islands company, and the major portion of our assets are located outside the United States and Hong Kong. A substantial portion of our current operations are conducted in the PRC. In addition, some of our directors and executive officers are nationals and residents of countries or areas other than the United States and Hong Kong. A substantial portion of the assets of these persons are located outside the United States and Hong Kong. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible for holders of our shares and ADSs to effect service of process within the United States or Hong Kong upon these persons, or to bring an action against us or against these individuals in the United States or Hong Kong in the event that they believe that their rights have been infringed under the U.S. federal securities laws, Hong Kong laws or otherwise. Even if shareholders are successful in bringing an action of this kind, the laws of the Cayman Islands and China may render them unable to enforce a judgment against our assets or the assets of our directors and officers. There is uncertainty as to whether the courts of the Cayman Islands or the PRC would recognize or enforce judgments. Furthermore, class action lawsuits, which are available in the United States for investors to seek remedies, are generally uncommon in the Cayman Islands and the PRC.
The SEC, the U.S. Department of Justice and other U.S. authorities may also have difficulties in bringing and enforcing actions against us or our directors or executive officers in the PRC. The SEC has stated that there are significant legal and other obstacles to obtaining information needed for investigations or litigation in China. China has recently adopted a revised securities law which provides, among other things, that without governmental approval in China, no entity or individual in China may provide documents and information relating to securities business activities to overseas regulators which could present significant legal and other obstacles to obtaining information needed for investigations and litigation conducted outside of China.
Furthermore, our Articles of Association are specific to us and include certain provisions that may be different from common practices in Hong Kong, such as the absence of requirements that the appointment, removal and remuneration of auditors must be approved by a majority of our shareholders.
As a result of the foregoing, our public shareholders may have more difficulty in protecting their interests through actions against us, our management, our directors or our major shareholders than they would as public shareholders of a company incorporated in the United States or Hong Kong.
It may be difficult for overseas regulators to conduct investigations or collect evidence within China.
Shareholder claims or regulatory investigation that are common in the United States generally are difficult to pursue as a matter of law or practicality in China. For example, in China, there are significant legal and other obstacles to providing information needed for regulatory investigations or litigation initiated outside China. Although the authorities in China may establish a regulatory cooperation mechanism with the securities regulatory authorities of another country or region to implement cross-border supervision and administration, such cooperation with the securities regulatory authorities in the Unities States may not be efficient in the absence of mutual and practical cooperation mechanisms. Furthermore, according to Article 177 of the PRC Securities Law, or Article 177, which became effective in March 2020, no overseas securities regulator is allowed to directly conduct investigations or evidence collection activities within the territory of the PRC. While detailed interpretations of or implementation rules under Article 177 have yet to be promulgated, the inability for an overseas securities regulator to directly conduct investigations or evidence collection activities within China may further increase difficulties you may face in protecting your interests.
If we are classified as a passive foreign investment company, or PFIC for United States federal income tax purposes, such classification could result in adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences to U.S. investors.
We could be classified as a PFIC by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for U.S. federal income tax purposes. Such characterization could result in adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences to you if you are a U.S. investor. For example, U.S. investors who owned our ADSs or shares during any taxable year in which we were a PFIC generally are subject to increased U.S. tax liabilities and reporting requirements for that taxable year and all succeeding years, regardless of whether we actually continue to be a PFIC, although a shareholder election to terminate such deemed PFIC status may be available in certain circumstances.
The determination of whether or not we are a PFIC is made on an annual basis and depends on the composition of our income and assets, including goodwill, from time to time. Specifically, we will be classified as a PFIC for U.S. tax purposes for a taxable year if either (a) 75% or more of our gross income for such taxable year is passive income, or (b) 50% or more of the average percentage of our assets during such taxable year either produce passive income or are held for the production of passive income. For such purposes, if we directly or indirectly own 25% or more of the shares of another corporation, we generally will be treated as if we (a) held directly a proportionate share of the other corporation’s assets, and (b) received directly a proportionate share of the other corporation’s income.
We do not believe that we were a PFIC for the taxable years 2018, 2019 and 2020. Based on certain estimates and assumptions, we do not expect to be a PFIC for taxable year 2021. The PFIC determination is highly fact intensive and made at the end of each taxable year. We hold and will continue to hold a substantial amount of cash and cash equivalents, and our PFIC status may depend in large part in the market price of our ADSs and shares which is likely to fluctuate. For these reasons, there can be no assurance that we will not be a PFIC in taxable year 2020 or that we will not be a PFIC in any future taxable year or that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service will not challenge our determination concerning our PFIC status.
If we are or become a PFIC, and, if so, if one or more of our subsidiaries or VIEs are treated as PFICs, U.S. investors would be subject to adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences, such as increased tax liability on capital gains and actual or deemed dividends, interest charges on certain taxes treated as deferred, and additional reporting requirements under U.S. federal income tax laws and regulations. Whether U.S. investors make (or are eligible to make) a timely mark-to-market election may affect the U.S. federal income tax consequences to U.S. investors with respect to the acquisition, ownership and disposition of our ADSs or shares and any distributions such U.S. investors may receive. We do not expect to provide the information regarding our income that would be necessary in order for a U.S. investor to make a qualified electing fund (the “QEF”) election if we are classified as a PFIC. Investors should consult their own tax advisors regarding all aspects of the application of the PFIC rules to our ADSs or shares.
If we are a PFIC in any year with respect to a U.S. investor, the U.S. investor will be required to file an annual information return on IRS Form 8621 (or other then applicable IRS Form or statement) regarding distributions received on our ADSs or shares an annual information return (also on IRS Form 8621 or other then applicable IRS Form or statement) relating to their ownership of our ADSs or shares. U.S. investors should consult their tax advisors regarding the potential application of the PFIC regime and related reporting requirements.
For further discussion of the adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences of our possible classification as a PFIC, see Item 10.E “Additional Information—Taxation—United States Federal Income Taxation.”
There is uncertainty as to whether Hong Kong stamp duty will apply to deposits of our ordinary shares into or withdrawal of our ordinary shares from the ADS facility or trading of our ADSs.
In connection with our initial public offering of shares in Hong Kong, we established a branch register of members in Hong Kong (the “Hong Kong share register”). Our shares that are traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, including those represented by ADSs, are registered on the Hong Kong share register, and the trading of these shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange are subject to the Hong Kong stamp duty. To facilitate conversion between ADSs and shares and their respective trading on Nasdaq and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, we moved a portion of our issued shares, including all of the ordinary shares deposited in our ADS program, from our Cayman share register to our Hong Kong share register.
Under the Hong Kong Stamp Duty Ordinance, any person who effects any sale or purchase of Hong Kong stock, defined as stock the transfer of which is required to be registered in Hong Kong, is required to pay Hong Kong stamp duty. The stamp duty is currently set at a total rate of 0.2% of the greater of the consideration for, or the value of, shares transferred, with 0.1% payable by each of the buyer and the seller. In February 2021, Hong Kong raised the stamp duty from 0.1% to 0.13%, effective August 2021.
To the best of our knowledge, Hong Kong stamp duty has not been levied in practice on the trading of ADSs representing shares of companies that are listed in both the United States and Hong Kong and that have maintained all or a portion of their ordinary shares, including ordinary shares underlying ADSs, in their Hong Kong share registers, or on the deposit of shares in or withdrawal of shares from ADS facilities of that kind. However, it is unclear whether, as a matter of Hong Kong law, the trading of ADSs representing shares of these dual-listed companies or the deposit of shares in or withdrawal of shares from those ADS facilities constitutes a sale or purchase of the underlying Hong Kong-registered ordinary shares that is subject to Hong Kong stamp duty. We advise investors to consult their own tax advisors on this matter. If Hong Kong stamp duty is determined by the competent authority to apply to the trading of those ADSs or deposits of shares in or withdrawal of shares from those ADS facilities, the trading price and the value of your investment in our ADSs and/or shares may be affected.
Item 4. Information on the Company
A. History and Development of the Company
Our business was founded in June 1997 and our Company was incorporated on July 6, 1999 under the Cayman Companies Act (2020 Revision). Our principal executive offices are located at NetEase Building, No. 599 Wangshang Road, Binjiang District, Hangzhou, People’s Republic of China 310052. Our telephone number is (86-571) 8985-3378.
Our key business milestones are summarized below:
Business model shifted from software development to internet technology with the launch of our NetEase website (“www.163.com”)
Our principal capital expenditures for 2020 consisted mainly of the construction of our new office buildings in Guangzhou and Shanghai in China and the acquisition of new servers in connection with the operation of our businesses for a total of approximately RMB1,055.6 million (US$161.8 million). Our principal capital expenditures for 2019 consisted mainly of the construction of our new office buildings and warehouses in Guangzhou and Hangzhou, acquisition of new servers in connection with the operation of our online games and developing the expansion packages of such games, and upgrades of our online service infrastructure for a total of approximately RMB1,209.5 million. Our principal capital expenditures for 2018 consisted mainly of the construction of our new office buildings in Hangzhou and Guangzhou, acquisition of new servers in connection with the operation of our online games and developing the expansion packages of such games, and upgrades of our online service infrastructure, for a total of approximately RMB2,169.4 million. In addition, in connection with the licensing of certain online games by Blizzard to Shanghai EaseNet for operation in the PRC, during the respective terms of the licenses, Shanghai EaseNet as licensee of the games is required to pay royalty fees to Blizzard for the games, have a minimum marketing expenditure commitment, and provide funds for hardware to operate the games.
As of December 31, 2020, we had capital expenditure commitments of RMB1,113.2 million (US$170.6 million) for 2021 onwards, which primarily consist of commitments made in connection with the construction of new office buildings in Guangzhou and Shanghai.
The SEC maintains a website that contains reports, proxy and information statements, and other information regarding issuers that file electronically with the SEC, including us, at http://www.sec.gov. Our company website can be accessed at http://ir.netease.com.
B. Business Overview
OUR ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE
We conduct our business in China through our subsidiaries, including our VIEs. Due to legal restrictions and prohibitions on foreign investment in Chinese companies providing, among other things, value-added telecommunications services, internet cultural services and internet publication services, we operate all of our business segments through contractual arrangements with the VIEs and their VIE equity holders. The contractual arrangements enable us to: (a) collectively exercise effective control over our VIEs and their subsidiaries; (b) receive substantially all of the economic benefits of our VIEs and their subsidiaries; and (c) have an exclusive option to purchase all or part of the equity interests in our VIEs when and to the extent permissible under PRC laws. The VIEs hold ICP licenses and other regulated licenses in which foreign investment is restricted or prohibited and operate our internet businesses and other businesses. Under the contractual arrangements, we provide our computer software, mobile applications, technologies and relevant services to such affiliated companies and they operate the NetEase online game services, education platforms, websites, as well as our other online businesses. For more information on these agreements, see Item 7.B. “Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions—Related Party Transactions.”
Starting in August 2008, Blizzard agreed to license certain online games to Shanghai EaseNet for operation in the PRC. Shanghai EaseNet is a PRC company wholly-owned by William Lei Ding, our Chief Executive Officer, director and major shareholder and has contractual arrangements with the joint venture established between, and owned equally by, Blizzard and us. The joint venture was established concurrently with the licensing of games from Blizzard in August 2008 and provides technical services to Shanghai EaseNet.
As a result of these contractual arrangements, we bear the risks of, and enjoy the rewards associated with, and therefore are the primary beneficiary of these entities. We therefore consolidate the results of operations of these entities and their subsidiaries in our consolidated financial statements. See also Item 5 “Operating and Financial Review and Prospects.”
Any violations by our VIEs of our agreements with them could disrupt our operations or adversely affect our services. See Item 3.D. “Risk Factors” for a detailed discussion of the risks to NetEase, Inc. regarding its dependency on these companies.
The diagram below shows our significant subsidiaries, as that term is defined under Section 1-02 of Regulation S-X under the Securities Act, and certain other subsidiaries and VIEs as of April 1, 2021, other than our joint venture with Blizzard, which is described separately in this section.
|(1)||Hangzhou NetEase Leihuo Technology Co., Ltd. is owned by two of our employees.|
|(2)||Each of Guangzhou NetEase Computer System Co., Ltd and Hangzhou Ledu Technology Co., Ltd. is 99.0% owned by William Lei Ding, our founder, Chief Executive Officer and director, and 1.0% by two of our employees, respectively. Our indirect, wholly owned subsidiary NetEase Information Technology (Beijing) Co., Ltd. is also a party to certain contractual arrangements with Guangzhou NetEase Computer System Co., Ltd.|
|(3)||Beijing NetEase Youdao Computer System Co., Ltd. is 71.1% owned by William Lei Ding and 28.9% owned by the chief executive officer of Youdao, Inc.|
We have a successful online game business, developing and operating a rich portfolio of highly popular titles. We currently offer over 140 mobile and PC games across a wide range of genres, satisfying the ever growing and diversifying needs of the gamer community. Leveraging our user insights and execution expertise, we have also incubated and developed in-house a pipeline of innovative and successful businesses, including intelligent learning and other businesses, ranging from music streaming and private label e-commerce to internet media, e- mail service and others. For a breakdown of total revenue by segment for the last three financial years, see Item 5.A. “Operating and Financial Review and Prospectus—Operating Results.”
Online Game Services
Our game products and services are comprised of in-house developed mobile and PC games as well as games licensed from renowned global developers. As a global early mover that anticipated and captured the trend toward mobile games, we have significantly expanded our portfolio of mobile game offerings in recent years. At the same time, our flagship titles continue to provide solid support for our online games business with persistent longevity and user loyalty. In addition, while solidifying our leadership position in the Chinese domestic market, we have also expanded globally with launches in Japan, Southeast Asia, the United States and other international markets.
Our Game Library
Mobile games have gained increasing popularity and an expanding user base as internet users in China and across the world rely more and more on mobile devices to access the internet. We are one of the largest mobile game providers globally in terms of game revenue, having commercially launched over 100 mobile games of various genres as of December 31, 2020, including in-house developed and licensed MMORPGs, collectible card games, or CCGs, first-person shooter games, battle arena games, and simulation games, or SLGs. We generate our mobile games revenue primarily from the sale of in-game virtual items within the games, and such revenue accounted for 71.9% of our net revenues from online game services in 2020.
To date, the majority of our most popular mobile games are in-house developed games. We have launched the mobile versions of our in-house developed flagship MMORPGs, including the Fantasy Westward Journey and Westward Journey Online mobile games. We distribute our mobile games through partnerships with major Android- and iOS-based application stores in China, as well as our proprietary distribution channels. We offer a variety of in-game virtual items that players can purchase, including avatars, skills, privileges and other in-game consumables, features and functionalities.
The table below sets forth certain of our major mobile games developed in-house:
Date of Initial
Mobile Version of Fantasy Westward Journey II
Fantasy Westward Journey mobile game
Westward Journey Online mobile game
The mobile version of New Ghost
CCG & RPG
Rules of Survival
All About Jianghu
CCG & RPG
Cooperative Survival RPG
Fantasy Westward Journey 3D
Onmyoji: The Card Game
Fantasy Westward Journey H5
We launched our first PC based MMORPG, Westward Journey Online, in December 2001. Subsequently, we launched Westward Journey Online II in August 2002 and our second original PC based MMORPG, Fantasy Westward Journey, in January 2004. Westward Journey Online II and Fantasy Westward Journey were upgraded to New Westward Journey Online II and Fantasy Westward Journey Online in 2013. Both game series remain popular with gamers today as a result of continued content updating and innovation in play modes over the past two decades.
PC game players can purchase prepaid points to pay for game playing time, virtual items and other fee-based services that enhance their playing experience such as special powers, costumes, weapons and other accessories. We regularly introduce new virtual items and other fee-based services, as well as change the features of virtual items based on player feedback, market trends and other factors.
The table below sets forth our major PC games developed in-house:
Date(s) of Launch and Major Upgrade
New Westward Journey Online II (a comprehensive upgrade of Westward Journey Online II)
2D MMORPG, classical Chinese setting
Fantasy Westward Journey Online (previously known as Fantasy Westward Journey II)
2D MMORPG, classical Chinese setting
3D MMORPG, classical Chinese setting
New Ghost (a new version of Ghost II)
2.5D MMORPG, classical Chinese setting
3D MMORPG, classical Chinese setting
In addition to our in-house developed mobile and PC games, we also offer games licensed from other international game developers, including Blizzard and Microsoft. For further details, see Item 4.B. “Business Overview—Our Services—Online Game Services—International Partnership and Investment.” Revenues from licensed games accounted for 7.5%, 7.5% and 9.1% of our total revenues in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively.
We continue to advance our games and make inroads that expand our reach in overseas markets. We have launched more than 50 mobile games in global markets since 2015. Our mobile game, Knives Out, has remained popular in Japan since its launch in 2017 and topped Japan’s iOS grossing chart multiple times in 2020. Identity V, which we launched in Japan in 2018, and Life-after, which we launched in Japan in 2019, were also ranked in Japan’s iOS grossing chart multiple times in 2020, further evidencing our potential to operate a diverse range of games in overseas markets over the long term.
In addition to our success in Japan, we have expanded our footprint across more regions. In December 2019, we launched MARVEL Super War in several Southeast Asian markets where it topped many of the iOS download charts. In 2020, we also introduced EVE Echoes and MARVEL Duel to overseas markets. We have also further enhanced our global R&D capabilities by launching a video game studio in Canada in 2019 and opening up our Sakura Studio in Japan in 2020.
International Partnership and Investment
Building on our strong in-house content development capabilities, we have formed strategic partnerships and collaborations with world-famous game studios and content owners. As a leader in online games in China, we have successfully attracted leading international game studios and content owners with our development and operational capabilities, such as Blizzard, Marvel, Microsoft and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, to co-develop and/or operate games in China and abroad. In addition, we established a series of IP collaborations with various third parties. We also invest in leading global studios across the world to strengthen our development capabilities and diversity.
For example, we have been partnering with Blizzard since 2008 to exclusively operate a number of its games in China, including World of Warcraft, the StarCraft II series, Diablo III, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch. Blizzard has also licensed on an exclusive basis in China its Battle.net® platform to us, which enables multi-player interaction within these games and other online services. In January 2019, we further extended our partnership to January 2023. Furthermore, we are currently co-developing Diablo ImmortalTM, an MMO action-RPG, with Blizzard. We have also entered into a partnership with Marvel in May 2019 to create original entertainment content based on internationally beloved Marvel characters and stories. We are jointly developing products including games and comic books that feature Marvel characters for users in China and beyond.
In addition, in May 2016, we entered into a five-year exclusive agreement with Microsoft, pursuant to which Microsoft agreed to license both the mobile and PC versions of Minecraft to us for operation in China until 2022. In May 2019, we extended the term of the Minecraft license for an additional year to August 2023. We successfully introduced both versions of Minecraft in China across various platforms in 2017.
We continue to establish and deepen collaboration with other leading international game studios, including entering into a joint development agreement with Codemasters, a leading UK game studio focusing on racing games, as well as making minority investments in Bungie, an independent game studio in the United States, Quantic Dream, an independent game studio based in Paris, and Behaviour Interactive Inc., Canada’s leading independent game studio.
Game Design and Development
Building upon the success of our classic titles, we have accumulated a better and deeper understanding of our users in terms of their interests and preferences in style, aesthetics and gameplay. We have integrated our experience and know-how into the design of our new games, enhancing our ability to deliver popular titles to users. We have established multiple studios of game developers to research and develop new games and expansion packs.
We continue to build upon existing successful games to offer multi-dimensional content by leveraging our in-house developed franchises and intellectual property. Our Fantasy Westward Journey and Westward Journey Online franchises remain popular and have been instilled in the collective memory of a generation of Chinese players. We further expanded the reach of these franchises through the introduction of Fantasy Westward Journey 3D and Fantasy Westward Journey H5 in 2019 and 2020, respectively, captivating both returning fans and new players.
In addition to growing and strengthening our existing franchise, we have continually incubated new ideas and delivered new and long- lasting game titles to our users. For example, Onmyoji is one of our younger franchises built in-house. As we introduce more innovative new storylines, characters and other content, the influence of Onmyoji’s IP continues to grow and resonate with more game players. Onmyoji topped the China iOS grossing chart multiple times during 2019 after more than three years of operation, and it has spun off three mobile games in MOBA, card and simulation genres, been adapted into a feature motion picture, a musical, a network series and inspired some themed coffee shops. Another in-house developed young IP is Identity V, which we believe has the potential to become another successful NetEase franchise. We are continually enriching this IP through a variety of initiatives, including e-sports, game collaborations and off-line activities. We have hosted a number of high-profile events featuring Identity V, including both international and regional series tournaments.
The prerequisite to building a successful franchise is the ability to create popular game IPs in-house, which is propelled by our strong R&D capabilities. Over the past two decades, we have built a large in-house R&D team with talented and passionate game creators. We empower each of our talent with our game-enthusiastic corporate culture and our carefully-designed training program. For more description on our R&D capabilities, see Item 4.B. “Business Overview—Our Services—Online Game Services—Game R&D and Technologies.”
Content Quality and User Experience
We focus on providing an innovative and superior user experience in game design and development and strive to make games of the highest quality. From the initial proposal to final launch, our games will typically go through a number of carefully designed steps including market research, proposal, demo, repeated prototype review and beta testing to ensure that the best quality and user experience can be delivered to our players.
In addition to creating a highly realistic and immersive gaming experience through the use of advanced technologies, we also employ innovative gamification thinking that takes into consideration both the in-game and out-of-game user experience. We have also launched offline gaming experience stores to allow for dynamic and spontaneous offline interactions among game players, as well as create an offline user feedback channel.
Game R&D and Technologies
Our consistent and significant investment in innovative game research and development is a key contributor to the success of our online game business and has been widely recognized in the games industry. In 2019, we were awarded the “Top Ten Game Research and Development Companies in China” award by the China Audio-video and Digital Publishing Association.
Our Proprietary Game R&D Capabilities
Proprietary R&D is the key focus of our game business. We continually strengthen and upgrade our game R&D infrastructure through recruiting and cultivating top talent, optimizing our game production pipeline, and fostering a culture of creativity and innovation. We have founded a number of in-house research institutions to explore the application of various technologies in games.
We strive to recruit and grow the best talent in the industry. Our training programs at NetEase Games Academy are widely recognized in China as a premier online games training institution for creative minds. One of our training programs was awarded the 2020 ATD Excellence in Practice Awards by the Association for Talent Development, one of the most authoritative international awards in the global talent development industry. In addition, we also established our in-house game AI research institutions to focus on the researching big data, user persona, reinforcement learning, computer vision and graphics, natural language processing, speech synthesis and music generation. Having built a virtuous cycle among our talent, established development pipeline and dynamic culture of innovation and craftsmanship, our strong R&D capabilities continue to enable high-quality production and expansion of successful games.
Key Game Technologies
Our game R&D is centered around using technologies to deliver a superior and differentiated user experience. The key areas of our proprietary game technologies include:
Proprietary game engines: In addition to game development, we have continually invested in proprietary game engine R&D. Since the initial launch of our first game engine, NeoX, in 2005, we have continually expanded and optimized our proprietary engines to systematically support enhanced game features and aesthetics. As part of our early strategy to focus on mobile games, we successfully adapted NeoX to iOS and Android systems as well as developed Messiah, a 3D game engine specifically designed for mobile platforms. We believe that our R&D in game engines and games reinforces each other and promotes a virtuous cycle of innovation. NeoX and Messiah enable us to systematically develop mobile games with the highest quality in lighting, audio, special effects, physics and animation, and other key game features, while our drive for better games in turn motivates development of more powerful engines.
User profile analytics: We perform an in-depth analysis of our users profile by analyzing activities and performances in games, in-game purchasing preferences and other data and information with artificial intelligence, or AI technologies. We leverage our user data on an aggregate basis to guide game development and upgrades, marketing and other activities.
Intelligent non-player characters (NPCs): Enabled by deep learning technology, we have created intelligent NPCs that can join players’ in-game activities, simulate real-life interactions, facial expressions and body language and enable a more engaging gaming experience. We also deploy multiple reinforcement learning technologies to produce NPCs with diverse styles and difficulty levels, catering to a wide range of player preferences.
Natural language processing (NLP): We apply NLP technology in our games to enable players to develop their own storyline by carrying out conversations with NPCs and explore hidden elements in the game, creating an immersive gaming experience for players.
Advanced game graphics: Our advanced game graphics enable game players to create unique characters with customized facial features. We also offer automatic character customization based on real-life photographs uploaded by players. In addition, we deploy high-quality 3D game graphics and automatic scene generation in our games.
Intelligent Learning Services – Youdao
Youdao’s Products and Services
Youdao is an intelligent learning company in China with over 120 million MAUs in 2020 and operates in a number of overseas markets. We founded Youdao in 2006 and launched the flagship Youdao Dictionary in 2007, which remains the top language app in China in terms of MAUs. Youdao experienced rapid growth since its founding and completed its public listing on the New York Stock Exchange in October 2019.
Building on the early success of Youdao Dictionary, we have attracted a massive user base, built a strong brand, and expanded into a broad range of products and services addressing lifelong learning needs of pre-school, K-12 and college students as well as adult learners, including online learning services and smart devices. Our smart devices seamlessly integrate advance AI algorithms and data analytics which supplement our online courses and learning products and further enhance user experience and efficiency.
We currently generate the majority of the revenues for Youdao’s learning services from its online courses in the form of the tuition fees received from students. We generate revenues of Youdao’s learning products from sales of smart devices and revenues from Youdao’s online marketing services through the provision of different formats of advertisements.
Online Courses. We have developed a comprehensive offering of online courses catering to the diverse learning needs of different age groups. Our online course offerings currently consist of Youdao Premium Courses, NetEase Cloud Classroom and China University MOOC.
Interactive Learning Apps. We offer a wide range of interactive learning apps to nearly all age groups. We are committed to delivering a fun and effective learning experience across these apps through an abundance of gamified features, as well as social functions allowing users and students to share their learning progress with friends through social media. Our current key interactive learning apps include Youdao Math, Youdao Fun Reading, and Youdao Vocabulary Builder.
Enterprise Services. We offer Youdao Smart Cloud, a cloud-based platform that allows third-party app developers, smart device brands and manufacturers to access our advanced optical character recognition (OCR) capability and neural machine translation (NMT) engine and incorporate them into their apps, devices, and services through application programming interfaces. We also license our OCR and NMT technologies and solutions to customers on a non-cloud basis. In addition, in collaboration with the Higher Education Press, we also provide colleges and universities with a cloud-based platform for them to build their online course offerings, as well as a range of ancillary technological support services.
Online Knowledge Tools
|●||Youdao Dictionary. Launched in 2007, Youdao Dictionary is our first major product and flagship online language tool. Today, it remains China’s most popular and trusted online dictionary and translation tool with 52 million average MAUs in 2020. As of December 31, 2020, Youdao Dictionary offered over 31 million entries across 109 languages.|
|●||Other Online Dictionary and Translation Tools. In addition to Youdao Dictionary, we also offer Youdao Translation, a tool specifically designed to support translation needs of business and leisure travelers across over 31 languages via camera and speech translation, U-Dictionary, an online dictionary and translation app we offer in Indonesia and other overseas markets, and Youdao Kids’ Dictionary, a K-12 focused smart and fun tool that offers translation services in Chinese and English.|
We develop and offer smart devices, including Youdao Dictionary Pen, Youdao Super Dictionary, Youdao Smart Pen, Youdao Pocket Translator, and Youdao Cloud Pen, to make learning more productive and efficient for our users. Our smart devices are developed and designed by us or in collaboration with third parties, while the manufacturing of such devices is outsourced to third-party manufacturers under original equipment manufacturer agreements.
Technology-driven Learning Experience
We integrate technologies into every major aspect of the learning and teaching process to ensure a superb learning experience across Youdao’s products and services. Over the years, we have built proprietary OCR, NMT, language data mining and voice recognition technologies and data analytics that serve as the foundation to our products and services. Such technologies are iteratively refined based on the vast data generated by our users.
For example, we offer a set of advanced AI-based technologies to make learning more personalized and efficient while maintaining a high level of human touch. We have also built massive “knowledge graphs” depicting different knowledge points, concepts and learning objectives, supported by a large quiz bank curated by our course development professionals to help students understand the subject matter. In addition, we have adopted an adaptive learning approach which tracks each student’s learning progress and dynamically adapts teaching to the student’s unique learning needs. We collect student learning and behavior data throughout their learning cycles to help us understand their learning progress and predict through our adaptive learning model how they will perform to achieve future learning objectives.
We also offer a seamless online and offline hybrid learning experience through the use of our smart devices. We encourage students to use our Youdao Smart Pen, which automatically converts the student’s handwriting into data that is synced up with our systems, allowing the student to view automatic grading results of exercises completed, correct answers and explanations, and suggested exercises to reinforce what is learnt, in almost real time. This has significantly improved our students’ learning efficiency and allowed us to deepen our insights into our students’ learning progress.
Other Innovative Business and Services
We derive our innovative businesses and others revenues primarily from NetEase Cloud Music, Yanxuan, NetEase CC Live streaming, advertising services, premium e-mail and other value-added services.
NetEase Cloud Music
We launched the NetEase Cloud Music streaming platform in April 2013. Since then, NetEase Cloud Music has focused on delivering a differentiated and premium listening experience in terms of the quality and variety of music offered. Its pursuit of offering an excellent user experience has led to a highly loyal and active user base.
NetEase Cloud Music is home to a large number of independent musicians. We focus on discovering and promoting rising artists with big data analytics. In addition, we offer musicians tools and solutions to promote and monetize their work.
We also diversify and further enrich our music offerings with licensed and sub-licensed content. NetEase Cloud Music operates under a freemium business model in which basic services are free while some enhanced features are available on a paid basis. In addition to providing the main music playback, download and search services, we also provide music social functions, such as song reviews, song list recommendations based on historical playback records.
In 2019, we also added a new community module, Cloud Village, to further develop a music community that fosters discussion, creation and sharing of personalized expression around music. We launched a music-inspired live streaming app, LOOK in 2018 to provide an additional platform for independent musicians and other performers to showcase their music talents and interact directly with their audience. Fans can leave comments and send virtual gifts to broadcasters while they perform live. In early 2020, we hosted an online music festival where more than 50 artists live streamed their performances to a massive audience across China. In our newly launched Cloud Music version 8.0, we focused on bringing our young users elevated personalized experiences to express themselves. We also extended the playlist mode’s capabilities to videos and podcasts and offered new Karaoke functions.
Our e-commerce platform, Yanxuan, primarily sells our private label products, including consumer electronics, food, apparel, homeware, kitchenware and other general merchandise which we primarily source from original design manufacturers, or ODMs, in China. With its slogan Quality Products, for Quality Life, Yanxuan is dedicated to helping consumers build a quality yet affordable life by providing selected daily life products with outstanding quality and design.
Under Yanxuan’s ODM model, it establishes close partnerships with selected manufacturers in China to design and manufacture products and sells them directly to customers. The ODM model enables Yanxuan to provide quality goods with lower cost by eliminating brand premium and channel intermediaries such as distributors and retailers. It also utilizes data analytics to help these suppliers enhance their efficiency and product appeal, particularly in terms of merchandise design and production. In addition to the online platform, we have also opened several offline stores in Hangzhou and Shanghai, inviting more consumers to discover the popular items on our Yanxuan through experiential retail.
Other Innovative Services
We also offer a wide range of other innovative services, including NetEase Media which is a well-established internet media platform in China delivering professional news and other quality information such as popular sports events, industry forums, celebrity close-ups, technology and fashion trends, and online entertainment to our users. Our media platform has three components, the NetEase News mobile application, www.163.com portal and a set of other vertical mobile products. It offers numerous features that promote user interactions and foster a vibrant online user community who actively contribute to the commentary sections. Our drive for journalistic integrity and high-quality content offerings has enabled us to attract an attractive demographic of engaged users. Our portal www.163.com also serves as a one-stop gateway for users to conveniently access our other online services, such as online games, e-mail, e-commerce, video and music streaming, e-reading and a set of other websites and mobile applications.
Other innovative businesses also include NetEase CC Live streaming, a platform offering various live streaming content with a primary focus on game broadcasting, and NetEase Pay, our payment platform. In addition, we offer free and fee-based email services through NetEase Mail, China’s leading email service provider since 1997.
TECHNOLOGIES AND IT INFRASTRUCTURE
As one of the inaugural class of internet platforms and one of the first to provide e-mail services to the masses in China, we have consistently prioritized investing in technologies since our inception. With our strong R&D capabilities and advanced technologies, we successfully digitalized traditional offline services, such as music and learning, and significantly transformed entertainment, learning and other activities. We focus on exploring viable applications of cutting-edge technologies to meaningfully enhance our service offerings and deliver a superior experience for our users. Empowered by advanced AI, big data analytics and other core proprietary technologies, we deliver engaging content and services that are highly individualized and personalized across our businesses.
AI and Machine Learning
Our powerful AI and machine learning capabilities enable us to effectively process ultra-large-scale data generated from across our services and products, optimize recommendations, personalize offerings and predict user behavior. Our key AI and machine learning capabilities include:
|●||Industry-leading technologies focusing on user experience: Based on the vast text, pictures, audio and video content generated by our users, we have developed advanced technologies such as natural language processing, automatic speech recognition (ASR) and text-to-speech (TTS) technologies that enable us to deliver an enjoyable and effective user experience.|
|●||AI-powered applications, such as content recommendation and customization: We are a leader in developing and adopting AI technologies in content recommendation and customization, which enables us to achieve greater user engagement and stickiness.|
We take a holistic approach to big data innovation, with a focus on gaining deeper understanding of our users in order to provide better services, products and experience. Building on technologies that can process and analyze bulk data generated by millions of users instantaneously, our platform adopts a service-oriented architecture that allows easy up-scaling and frequent upgrading of the products. Our key data analytics capabilities include:
|●||Scale: We have accumulated a massive user base and vast and complex user data across our online games, intelligent learning, music and media businesses. The data generated every day not only provides us with high-quality profile information, but also contains a large amount of user-generated content and interactions, including text, images, audio and video. We maintain a high standard of data protection and privacy while productively using our data to inform our business operations and development.|
|●||High-value data: Content, relationships and behavioral data based on user activities and interactions enable us to create more accurate user profiles. Based on this data, we can be more intuitive and comprehensive in reflecting user interests and preferences, and provide valuable user reference data for a wide spectrum of R&D, marketing, user engagement and other strategic initiatives.|
|●||Leading data analytical technology: Our big data analytical capability enables comprehensive analysis of services and products offered and timely adjustments.|
Graphics, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality
We have developed numerous technologies to create immersive and effective entertainment and learning experiences. In addition to creating quality 3D game graphics and automatic scene generations in games, we have launched and will continue to launch our virtual reality (VR) games to offer game players a lifelike, free and dynamic open world game experience. Outside of games, NetEase Cloud Music has also leveraged augmented reality in its marketing and user engagement activities.
Our infrastructure and technology have been designed for reliability, scalability and flexibility and are administered by our technical staff. Our NetEase websites and other online and mobile platforms are made available primarily through network servers co-located in the facilities of China Telecom’s affiliates, China Unicom’s affiliates and China Mobile’s affiliates. As of December 31, 2020, there were approximately 112,000 of such co-located servers, including servers supporting the operation of the games licensed to Shanghai EaseNet by Blizzard, using leased dedicated lines mainly from various affiliates of China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile. We also utilize certain cloud-based servers maintained by third parties such as Amazon.
In addition, we have developed our own systems to facilitate sales planning, targeting, trafficking, inventory management and reporting tools, such as advertisement tracking systems for our advertising services.
We have also established a comprehensive user profile system, which we monitor and review on a regular basis. We also deploy a single sign-on system that allows users to easily access our services offered through the various NetEase products. We intend to continue to use a combination of internally developed software products as well as third-party products to enhance our products and services in the future.
SALES AND MARKETING
We employ a variety of online and traditional sales and marketing programs and promotional activities to build our brand as part of our overall marketing strategy. We focus on building brand awareness through online marketing campaigns, proactive public relations and other offline advertising. We invest in a series of marketing activities to further strengthen our brand image and continue to grow our user base, including collaborating with leading social media, video and live streaming platforms, TV, movie and stage production companies as well as book and comic publishers to extend our brand to a broader potential user group.
Online Game Services
Our mobile games are available on the Apple app store for iOS and third-party Android app stores. In addition, to leverage our existing user bases, we also publish our mobile games through our own internet properties. We conduct in-game marketing campaigns in connection with special holiday editions or launches of new games or expansion packs throughout the year. We have also promoted our games in collaboration with online and offline third-party promoters.
Youdao generates user traffic and leads primarily from online channels. As a key sales and marketing strategy, Youdao cross-sells its comprehensive portfolio of products and services, which allows it to effectively scale its business with modest traffic acquisition and marketing spending. In addition, Youdao also employs mobile marketing, such as brand advertisements and marketing campaigns on app stores, leading mobile news apps and social media platforms, as well as through optimization techniques designed to improve its ranking in popular search engines’ results. Youdao also engages in offline marketing and branding to supplement its overall sales and marketing strategies.
Innovative Businesses and Others
For our innovative businesses and other online services, content and services are generally provided through mobile applications or their respective websites. Users purchase our services either at a pre-determined package rate or on an item-based basis, and payments are made using third-party online payment platforms or NetEase Pay. We attract users through a variety of channels, such as our sponsored searches, social and online advertising, internet video and television advertising and other advertising channels. We also offer our customers special pricing discounts in connection with promotion activities and strive to expand our products selection to attract more visitors. Advertising services are conducted through our dedicated advertising services sales force, or through online advertising sales networks and advertising agencies.
We rely on a combination of copyright, trademark, patent and trade secrecy laws and contractual restrictions on disclosure to protect our intellectual property rights. We require our employees to enter into agreements requiring them to keep confidential all information relating to our customers, methods, business and trade secrets during and after their employment with us. Our employees are required to acknowledge and recognize that all inventions, trade secrets, works of authorship, developments and other processes, whether or not patentable or copyrightable, made by them during their employment are our property. They also sign all necessary documents to substantiate our sole and exclusive right to those works and to transfer any ownership that they may claim in those works to us.
We have registered a number of domain names. We have also successfully registered numerous trademarks with China’s Trademark Office, including marks incorporating the words “NetEase” and “Yeah!” in English and for marks for “NetEase” as written in Chinese in traditional and simplified Chinese characters. In addition, we have registered trademarks involving Chinese characters and phrases that have meanings relating to our web pages, products and services, including our online games, intelligent learning services, online music services, chat services, e-commerce and certain other online services. In addition, we have registered a number of trademarks involving the “NetEase” name as well as the names and logos of our products and services in the United States, the European Union, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Thailand and other jurisdictions.
In addition, we have registered our various in-house developed games and other online products with the National Copyright Protection Center of China. Moreover, we have filed certain patent applications with the National Intellectual Property Administration of China, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, European Patent Office and Japan Patent Office, and have obtained Certificates of Design Patent, Utility Model Patent and/or Invention Patent for technologies related to our games, live video, news, educational products, e-commerce and finance, NetEase Cloud Music, hardware products, cloud technology, augmented reality technology, computer technology and e-mail from the National Intellectual Property Administration of China, as well as Certificates of Utility Patent and Certificates of Design Patent in the United States, Europe and Japan.
In addition, Youdao owns the intellectual property relating to in-house developed content used on its platform and the registrations of the core trademarks “Youdao.” We also own the intellectual property (other than the content) relating to the NetEase websites and other online and mobile platforms, and the technology that enables online community, personalization, online games, news sharing, instant messaging, video streaming, NetEase Cloud Music, Yanxuan and other services on those platforms. We license content from various freelance providers and other content providers.
While we actively take steps to protect our proprietary rights, such steps may not be adequate to prevent the infringement or misappropriation of our intellectual property. See Item 3.D. “Risk Factors—Risks Related to doing business in China—We may not be able to adequately protect our intellectual property, and we may be exposed to infringement claims by third parties.”
Our competition primarily comes from global online game developers and operators, such as Tencent, established online and offline education service providers in China, as well as leading digital media and entertainment providers. Some of our current and potential competitors are larger than we are, and currently offer, and could further develop or acquire, content and services that compete with us. The areas in which we compete primarily include:
User traffic, time and spending. We compete to attract, engage and retain users based on the design, quality, popularity and efficacy of our content offerings, the overall user experience of our products and services, as well as the effectiveness of our marketing activities.
Talent. We compete for motivated and capable talent, including engineers, game designers, product developers and creative professionals to build compelling content, tools and functions.
Global collaboration opportunities. We compete to win collaboration relationships with well-known global IP and content owners based on our level of expertise in systematically developing in-house developed games, delivering a compelling user experience through operational knowhow and customizing established game titles for rapid expansion into overseas markets.
There can be no assurance that we will be able to compete successfully against our current or future competitors or that competition will not have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Since our founding, we have been highly committed to environmental, social and corporate responsibility matters. Through our product and service offerings, we aim to improve people’s lives by leveraging technologies to offer innovative services such as online games, intelligent learning and music streaming. Aspiring to make high-quality education and learning services accessible to everyone, we have been making headway in improving and promoting online and live-streamed courses, which make it possible for users in less-developed regions in China to access quality and diverse educational resources. In 2020, we donated hardware, software and high-quality learning content to schools in Hunan province, enabling over 12,000 students to have access to online courses.
Furthermore, our Cloud Music platform has become an important avenue for raising awareness of social issues, such as animal protection and children’s wellbeing, through its music and fund-raising campaigns. Yanxuan has also leveraged its business platform to help local artisans and merchants sell their products in a bid to contribute to China’s poverty reduction efforts. Moreover, our games have demonstrated their social value by providing platforms for users to collaborate, contribute ideas, raise awareness of social issues and promote science popularization. For example, students rebuilt their campuses in Minecraft and held virtual graduation ceremonies, despite school closures related to COVID-19. Fantasy Westward Journey mobile games collaborated with WildAid to bring public attention to the protection of wild animals. In addition, we have developed game modes to educate users on cybersecurity awareness. We have also partnered with organizations to use our anime characters to educate the public on the prevention of respiratory diseases.
In addition, we stand out in our commitment to equality and diversity in our recruitment and promotion policies. We are included in the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index’s 2020 global list of 325 public companies that are committed to gender equality in the workplace, an accolade that we are enormously proud of. We also value diversity highly and currently have employees from more than 30 countries and regions, including the United States, Japan, South Korea and Canada. We empower each of our talent with our carefully-designed training program. One of our training programs were awarded the “2020 ATD Excellence in Practice Awards” by the Association for Talent Development, one of the most authoritative international awards in the global talent development industry.
Given that the majority of our operations are conducted online, we leave limited impact on the environment with a small carbon footprint. We are committed to carbon mitigation measures and will continue to explore ways to further improve energy efficiency. All our servers are compliant with industry energy efficiency standards in China, and we intentionally choose partners with a strong commitment to carbon emission reduction in our collaboration with third-party cloud servers.
RISK MANAGEMENT AND INTERNAL CONTROL
We have devoted ourselves to establishing and maintaining risk management and internal control systems consisting of policies and procedures that we consider to be appropriate for our business operations, and we are dedicated to continuously improving these systems.
We have adopted and implemented comprehensive risk management policies in various aspects of our business operations, such as financial reporting, information system, internal control, human resources and investment management.
Financial reporting risk management
We have in place a set of accounting policies in connection with our financial reporting risk management, such as financial reporting management policies, budget management policies, treasury management policies, financial statements preparation policies and finance department and staff management policies. We have various procedures and IT systems in place to implement our accounting policies, and our finance department reviews our management accounts based on such procedures. We also provide regular training to our finance department employees to ensure that they understand our financial management and accounting policies and implement them in our daily operations.
Information system risk management
Sufficient maintenance, storage and protection of user data and other related information is critical to our business. We have implemented various internal procedures and controls to ensure that user data is protected and that leakage and loss of such data is avoided.
We believe it is crucial that our users understand how we handle their information so that they can make informed choices in deciding how such information is used and shared. To this end, we collect personal information and data from users only with their prior consent, and we offer our users opt-out or opt-in options. We have established and implemented a strict companywide policy on data collection, usage, disclosure, transfer and storage. In accordance with our policy, we are required to go through the following procedures: (i) providing notice to users as to why and how their data is being collected and used; (ii) providing users with the choice to opt-out or opt-in; (iii) making continuous efforts to prevent loss or leakage of user data; and (iv) providing users with access to their own personal information collected by us.
We have implemented a network of process and software controls to protect individual personal information and privacy. We encrypt user data in network transmission. For back-end storage, we also use various encryption technologies at software and hardware levels to protect sensitive user data. To minimize the risk of data loss or leakage, we conduct regular data backup and data recovery tests.
We prioritize user data security and privacy by strictly following our defined policy. We have obtained the certificates of ISO 27001 and filing certificates of Classified Protection of Information Security for some of our entities and products. We have established a coordination mechanism with third-party agencies to handle information security threats in a timely manner.
At the enterprise level, we established a systematic and universal user account authorization and management mechanism based on which we periodically review the status of user accounts and the related authorization information. We regularly perform security configuration assessment on our databases and servers and implement procedures for system log management.
We have put in place a series of back-up management procedures. We deploy different back-up mechanisms, including local back-ups and offsite back-ups, depending on the needs of our business, to minimize the risk of user data loss or leakage. We have also established protocols for the design, implementation and monitoring of offsite back-ups. We also require any access to or processing of user data to go through strict assessment and approval procedures in order to ensure that only valid and legitimate requests are executed.
We provide information security training to our employees and conduct ongoing trainings, and we discuss any issues or necessary updates from time to time. We also have an emergency response mechanism to evaluate critical risks, formulate disaster response plans and perform emergency drills on a regular basis. In addition, each of our business units is responsible for ensuring that the usage, maintenance and protection of user data are in compliance with our internal information security policy and the applicable laws and regulations.
Internal control risk management
We have designed and adopted strict internal procedures to ensure the compliance of our business operations with the relevant rules and regulations. Our internal control team works closely with our legal, compliance and finance departments as well as our business units to: (a) perform risk assessments and give advice on risk management strategies; (b) improve business process efficiency and monitor internal control effectiveness; and (c) promote risk awareness throughout our Company.
In accordance with our internal procedures, our in-house legal department performs the basic function of reviewing and updating the form of contracts we enter into with our consumers, merchants and relevant third-parties. Our legal department examines the contract terms and reviews relevant documents for our business operations, and the necessary underlying due diligence materials, before we enter into any contract or business arrangements.
Our in-house legal department reviews our services for regulatory compliance before they are made available to the general public. Our in-house legal department works with relevant business units to obtain requisite governmental approvals or consents, including preparing and submitting all necessary documents for filing with relevant government authorities within the prescribed regulatory timelines.
We continually review the implementation of our risk management policies and measures to ensure our policies and implementation are effective and sufficient.
Human resources risk management
We provide regular and specialized training tailored to: (a) the needs of our employees in different departments, and (b) our anti-bribery & corruption policy. We regularly organize internal training sessions conducted by senior employees or outside consultants.
We have in place an employee handbook and a code of conduct approved by our management and have distributed them to all our employees. The handbook contains internal rules and guidelines regarding work ethics, fraud prevention mechanisms, negligence and corruption. We provide employees with regular training as well as resources to explain the guidelines contained in the employee handbook.
We have in place an anti-bribery and corruption policy to safeguard against any corruption within our Company. The policy explains potential bribery and corruption conduct and our anti-bribery and corruption measures. We make our internal reporting channel open and available for our staff to report any bribery and corruption acts, and our staff can also make anonymous reports to our ethics committee. Our ethics committee is responsible for investigating the reported incidents and taking appropriate measures.
Investment risk management
We invest in or acquire businesses that are complementary to our business, such as businesses that can expand the services we offer and strengthen our R&D capabilities.
In general, we intend to hold our investments for the long term. In order to protect our interests as shareholders and control the potential risks associated with our investments, we generally request our investee companies to grant us customary investor protective rights.
Our finance department monitors the deal performance on a regular basis. Our finance and legal departments cooperate with deal team on deal analysis, communication, execution, risk control and reporting. Any material factors will be timely reported to the senior management or board of director for further decision.
Audit committee experience and qualification and board oversight
We have established an audit committee to monitor the implementation of our risk management policies across our company on an ongoing basis to ensure that our internal control system is effective in identifying, managing and mitigating risks involved in our business operations.
The audit committee consists of three members, namely Michael Leung, Alice Cheng and Joseph Tong, all of whom are independent non-executive directors. Michael Leung is the chairperson of the audit committee. For the professional qualifications and experiences of the members of our audit committee, see “Directors and Senior Management.”
We also maintain an internal audit department which is responsible for reviewing the effectiveness of internal controls and reporting to the audit committee and senior management on any issues identified. Our internal audit department members hold regular meetings with management to discuss any internal control issues we face and the corresponding measures to implement toward resolving such issues. The internal audit department reports to the audit committee to ensure that any major issues identified are channeled to the committee on a timely basis. The audit committee then discusses the issues and reports to the board of directors, if necessary.
Ongoing measures to monitor the implementation of risk management policies
Our audit committee, internal audit department and senior management together monitor the implementation of our risk management policies on an ongoing basis to ensure our policies and implementation are effective and sufficient.
We consider our insurance coverage to be adequate as we have in place all the mandatory insurance policies required by Chinese laws and regulations and in accordance with the commercial practices in our industry. Our employee-related insurance consists of pension insurance, maternity insurance, unemployment insurance, work-related injury insurance, medical insurance and housing funds, as required by Chinese laws and regulations. We also purchase supplemental commercial medical insurance and accident insurance for our employees.
In line with general market practice, we do not maintain any business interruption insurance or product liability insurance, which are not mandatory under PRC laws. We do not maintain key person life insurance, insurance policies covering damages to our network infrastructures or information technology systems. We carry property insurance with low coverage limits that may not be adequate to compensate us for all losses, particularly with respect to loss of business and reputation that may occur. We also do not maintain insurance policies against risks relating to the Contractual Arrangements. In 2020, we did not make any material insurance claims in relation to our business.
Regulations on Foreign Investment
On March 15, 2019, the National People’s Congress promulgated the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law, which became effective on January 1, 2020, and replaced the Wholly Foreign-owned Enterprises Law, the Sino-foreign Equity Joint Ventures Law, and the Sino-foreign Cooperative Joint Ventures Law. Investment activities in the PRC by foreign investors are principally governed by the Catalogue of Industries for Encouraging Foreign Investment, or the Encouraging Catalogue, and the Special Management Measures (Negative List) for the Access of Foreign Investment, or the Negative List, both of which were promulgated and are amended from time to time by the MOFCOM, and the NDRC. The Encouraging Catalogue and the Negative List lay out the basic framework for foreign investment in China, classifying businesses into three categories with regard to foreign investment: “encourage”, “restricted” and “prohibited”. Industries not listed in the Encouraging Catalogue and the Negative List are generally deemed as falling into a fourth category “permitted” unless specifically restricted by other PRC laws. On December 27, 2020, MOFCOM and the NDRC released the Catalog of Industries for Encouraging Foreign Investment (2020 Version), which became effective on January 27, 2021, to replace the previous Encouraging Catalogue. On June 23, 2020, MOFCOM and the NDRC released the Special Management Measures (Negative List) for the Access of Foreign Investment (2020 Version), which became effective on July 23, 2020, to replace the previous 2019 Negative List. To comply with the above foreign investment restrictions and to obtain necessary licenses and permits in industries that are currently subject to foreign investment restrictions in China, we operate in China through our variable interest entities. See Item 4.B. “Business Overview—Our Organizational Structure.” There remain substantial uncertainties with respect to the interpretation and application of existing or future PRC laws and regulations on foreign investment. See Item 3.D. “Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure.”
According to the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law, foreign investment shall enjoy “pre-entry national treatment,” which generally means that at an investment-entrance stage, foreign investment should be treated no less favorably than domestic investment, except for foreign investments in industries deemed to be “restricted” or “prohibited” in the “negative list.” The 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law provides that foreign invested entities operating in “restricted” or “prohibited” industries will require entry clearance and other approvals. However, uncertainties still exist when it comes to interpreting or implementing the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law and its implementation rules. For example, the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law does not comment on the concept of “de facto control” or contractual arrangements with variable interest entities. It does, however, have a catch-all provision under the definition of “foreign investment,” which includes investments made by foreign investors in China through means stipulated by laws or administrative regulations or other methods prescribed by the State Council. As such, there remains a leeway for future Laws to define contractual arrangements as a form of “foreign investment.” Furthermore, the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law provides that foreign invested enterprises established according to the existing laws regulating foreign investment may maintain their structure and corporate governance for five years after the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law is implemented, which means that foreign invested enterprises may be required to adjust their structure and corporate governance after five years. For further details, please see Item 3.D. “Risk Factors — Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure.”
On December 26, 2019, the State Council promulgated the Implementation Rules to the Foreign Investment Law, which became effective on January 1, 2020, and repealed the Provisional Regulations on the Duration of Sino-Foreign Equity Joint Venture, the Regulations on Implementing the Wholly Foreign-Invested Enterprise Law of the PRC, and the Regulations on Implementing the Sino-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law of the PRC. The implementation rules further clarified and elaborated on the relevant provisions of the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law. However, given that these implementation rules were only recently enacted, a number of uncertainties still exist in relation to the interpretation and implementation of the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law.
On December 30, 2019, the MOFCOM and the SAMR, jointly promulgated the Measures for Information Reporting on Foreign Investment, which became effective on January 1, 2020. Pursuant to the measures, where a foreign investor directly or indirectly carries out investment activities in China, the foreign investor or the foreign-invested enterprise must submit the investment information to the competent commerce department for further handling.
On December 19, 2020, MOFCOM and the NDRC jointly promulgated the Measures for the Security Review of Foreign Investments, which took effect on January 18, 2021, pursuant to which a security review shall be conducted for foreign investments that affect or may affect national security. The measures established a working mechanism for the security review of foreign investments, or the Security Review Working Mechanism, to be responsible for organizing, coordinating and guiding the security review of foreign investments. For foreign investments in material information technology and internet products and services which relate to national security, the foreign investors who obtain the actual controlling stake in the investee enterprise in the PRC shall declare to the office of the Security Review Working Mechanism prior to implementation of the investments.
Regulations on Telecommunication Services
In September 2000, China’s State Council promulgated the Telecommunications Regulations of the PRC (the “Telecom Regulations”), which was revised in February 2016. The Telecom Regulations categorized all telecommunications businesses in China as either a “basic telecommunications business” or “value-added telecommunications business,” ICP services, e-mail services, and other telecommunications businesses operated by us are classified as value-added telecommunications businesses. According to the Telecom Regulations, the commercial operator of these services must obtain an operating license. The Telecom Regulations also set out extensive guidelines with respect to different aspects of telecommunications operations in China.
On December 28, 2015, MIIT issued the Telecommunication Services Classification Catalog (2015 Edition), which replaced the then-operative Telecommunication Services Classification Catalog (2003 Edition).The 2015 Catalog took effect on March 1, 2016 and was amended on June 6, 2019. The Catalog divided the information services business into an additional five sub-categories and reclassified the online data processing and transaction processing services business from a “basic telecommunications business” to a “value-added telecommunications business.” In 2017, MIIT issued the new version of the Measures for the Administration of Telecom Business Licensing (the “MIIT Measures 2017),” which became effective on September 1, 2017. Similar to the 2009 version, the MIIT Measures 2017 require companies who are engaged in telecommunications businesses to have a Telecom Business License. However, the MIIT Measures 2017 removed the previous requirement to file trans-regional value-added telecommunications business permits.
In December 2001, in order to comply with China’s commitments with respect to its entry into the WTO, the State Council promulgated the Regulation for the Administration of Foreign-Invested Telecommunications Enterprises (the “FITE Regulations”), which was last revised in February 2016. The FITE Regulations set out detailed requirements with respect to capitalization, investor qualifications, and application procedures in connection with establishing a foreign invested telecom enterprise. Pursuant to the FITE Regulations, foreign investors may hold an aggregate of no more than 50% of the total equity in any value-added telecommunications business in China. The Notice of the MIIT on Removing the Restrictions on Foreign Equity Ratios in Online Data Processing and Transaction Processing (Operating E-commerce) Business issued by the MIIT in June 2015 set out an exception, under which, foreign investors may hold up to the entire equity interest in online data processing and transaction processing (operating e-commerce) businesses. However, the FITE Regulations do not define “online data processing and transaction processing (operating e-commerce) business,” and its interpretation and enforcement involve significant uncertainties. In addition, the Negative List removes some of the previous restrictions on value-added telecommunications providers by allowing foreign investors to hold up to the entire equity interest in domestic multi-party communication, e-storage and forwarding and call center businesses in China. However, other requirements provided by the SAPPRFT and MIIT regulations still apply.
The Circular of the MII on Intensifying the Administration of Foreign Investment in Value-Added Telecommunication Services (the “2006 MII Circular”), was promulgated by MII on July 13, 2006. The 2006 MII Circular provides that: (i) any domain name used by a valued-added telecommunications service provider must be legally owned by the service provider or its shareholder(s); (ii) any trademark used by a value-added telecommunications service provider must be legally owned by the service provider or its shareholder(s); (iii) the operation site and facilities of a value-added telecommunications service provider must be installed within the scope prescribed by the operating licenses obtained by the service provider and must correspond to the value-added telecommunications services that the service provider has been approved to provide; and (iv) a value-added telecommunications service provider must establish or improve the measures of ensuring information security. Companies that have obtained operating licenses for value-added telecommunications services are required to conduct self-examination and self-correction according to the requirements above and report their results to MII. To comply with these requirements, Guangzhou NetEase submitted its self-correction report to MII in 2007 and our VIEs have registered the domain names used by them.
Regulations on Internet Information Services
The Measures for the Administration of Internet Information (the “ICP Measures”), issued by the State Council went into effect on September 25, 2000 and was revised on January 8, 2011. Under the ICP Measures, any entity that provides information to internet users must obtain an operating license from the MII, or its local branch at the provincial level in accordance with the Regulations on Telecommunication Services described above.
The Provisional Regulations for the Administration of Website Operation of News Publications, which was jointly issued by the SCIO, and MII on November 6, 2000, stipulates that websites of non-news organizations shall not publish news items produced by themselves, and that their websites shall be approved by SCIO after securing permission from SCIO at the provincial level. On June 1, 2017, the latest Provisions for the Administration of Internet News Information Services, promulgated by the CAC, came into effect, which superseded the previous regulations. According to the revised provisions, to provide internet-based news information services to the public via internet websites, applications, forums, blogs, micro-blogs, public accounts, instant communication tools and online live-stream, providers must obtain an Internet News Information Service License, issued by the CAC or a local cyberspace administration. In addition, the provisions prohibit organizations from establishing foreign, partially or wholly owned, entities that invest or operate internet-based news information services. The CAC and the local cyberspace administrative offices are responsible for the supervision, management and inspection of internet-based news information services.
In December 2016, the MOC issued the Circular on the Administrative Measures for Business Activities Relating to Online Performance, pursuant to which an internet platform operator that provides online performance shall: (i) apply for a Network Culture Operation License with the relevant provincial-level authority; (ii) notify the MOC of any access or performance channels created for domestic performers within ten days; and (iii) submit an application to the MOC before creating any access or performance channels for foreign performers. On June 19, 2018, the MOCT issued the National Cultural Market Blacklist Management Measures, which created a public ‘blacklist’ for companies that did not comply with the regulations on internet culture activities and imposed penalties and credit restrictions for non-compliance.
In addition, the SAPPRFT issued a Notice on Strengthening the Management of Live-Streaming Service for the Network Audio-visual Programs in September 2016, pursuant to which an internet live-streaming service provider shall: (i) provide necessary censorship on the content of live-streams; (ii) establish a mechanism to timely identify unlawful content, prevent any unlawful content from being distributed and replace the content with backup programs; and (iii) record live-streaming programs and keep the records for at least 60 days. Shortly after this notice, in November 2016, the CAC promulgated the Administrative Provisions on Internet Live-Streaming Services, pursuant to which an internet live-streaming service provider shall: (i) establish a live-streaming content review platform; (ii) require authentication for the registration of live-streaming content providers; and (iii) enter into a service agreement with live-streaming service users to specify each of the live-streaming service user’s and the content provider’s rights and obligations.
In November 2018, the CAC, together with the Ministry of Public Security, published the Provisions on the Safety Assessment for Internet Information Services Capable of Creating Public Opinions or Social Mobilization. These provisions require certain internet information service providers to conduct safety assessment in relation to the: (i) the legal compliance status of their information services, new technologies and new applications; (ii) effectiveness of their implementation of safety measures as required by applicable laws and regulations; and (iii) effectiveness of their safety and risk control measures.
On June 27, 2002, the MII and the GAPP jointly promulgated the Provisional Measures for the Administration of Internet Publishing, which was replaced by the Rules for the Administration of Online Publishing Service jointly issued by SAPPRFT and MIIT that became effective on March 10, 2016. These rules require online publishers to secure approval from the SAPPRFT for their operations. The term “online publication service” refers to providing online publications to the public through information networks. The term “online publications” is defined as the digital works with publishing features such as editing, production or processing provided to the public through information networks (including contents from books, newspapers, periodicals, audio and video products, electronic publications that have already been formally published or works that have been made public in other media format, and the digital works of literature, art and science). These rules also forbid foreign investment in the online publishing sector.
On July 8, 2004, State Food and Drug Administration of China issued the Measures for the Administration of Internet Drug Information Services, which was amended in 2017. The measures stipulate that websites publishing drug-related information must obtain a license from local food and drug administrations.
Pursuant to the Measures for the Administration of Internet E-mail Services (the “Internet E-mail Measures”), which was issued by MII on February 20, 2006, e-mail service providers must obtain value-added telecommunications business operating licenses or file for recordation as non-profit internet service providers. In addition, each e-mail service provider must keep a record of the timing, sender’s or recipient’s e-mail address and IP address of each e-mail transmitted through its servers for 60 days. The Internet E-mail Measures also state that an internet e-mail service provider is obligated to keep confidential the users’ personal registered information and internet e-mail addresses. An internet e-mail service provider and its employees may not illegally use any user’s personal registered information or internet e-mail address, and may not, without consent of the user, divulge the user’s personal registered information or internet e-mail address, unless otherwise prescribed by another Law.
The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (the “SARFT”) and MII jointly issued the Regulations for the Administration of Internet Audiovisual Program Services (the “Audiovisual Regulations”) on December 20, 2007, which was revised on August 28, 2015 by the SAPPRFT. The Audiovisual Regulations require that online audio and video service providers obtain a permit from NRTA in accordance with the Audiovisual Regulations.
On November 18, 2019, the CAC, the MOCT and the NRTA jointly issued the Promulgation of the Administrative Provisions on Online Audio and Video Information Services (the “Audio and Video Provisions”), which took effect on January 1, 2020. The Audio and Video Provisions require that online audio and video information service providers: (i) acquire relevant qualifications required by law and regulations; (ii) adopt rules and policies in relation to, for example, user registration, information distribution and review, information security management, emergency disposal, educational training for employees, the protection of minors and intellectual property rights protection; (iii) verify personal information submitted by users as required under applicable laws; and (iv) undertake technical and other necessary measures to ensure network security and stable operations. Organizations and individuals are prohibited from utilizing online audio and video information services and the related information technology to carry out illegal activities that infringe upon the legitimate rights and interests of others. The Audio and Video Provisions further set out requirements for the creation, distribution and transmission of audio videos based on new technologies and applications such as deep learning and virtual reality, including requirements for safety evaluation, labeling requirements and mechanisms for refuting fake rumors.
On October 23, 2015, the MOC issued its Notice on Further Strengthening and Improving the Management of Online Music. According to this notice, entities should examine and verify the content of online music by themselves, while the culture management administration should supervise compliance upon and following the content’s publication.
On August 7, 2014, the CAC issued the Interim Provisions on Managing the Development of Public Information Services on Instant Messaging Tools (the “Instant Messaging Interim Provisions”), which stipulate that instant messaging tool service providers must enter into an agreement with their users during account registration to require them to abide by “Seven Principals,” including, without limitation, compliance with applicable laws and social ethics.
On December 29, 2011, MIIT issued the Several Provisions on Regulating the Market Order for Internet Information Services (the “Market Order Provisions”). According to the provisions, internet information service providers (“IISP(s)”), are prohibited from a wide range of activities that would infringe upon the rights and interests of users or other IISPs, including but not limited to, maliciously forcing incompatibility on services and products provided by other IISPs; deceiving, misleading or forcing users to use or not to use services and products provided by other IISPs; changing users’ browser configurations or other configurations without notifying and obtaining permission from the users; and bundling their terminal software with other software without providing clear notice to users. In addition, IISPs are prohibited from collecting information that is related to users and can serve to identify users’ identities solely or in conjunction with other information without the users’ consent or providing other people with the information, unless otherwise permitted or required under Laws.
On April 17, 2015, the National Copyright Administration of the People’s Republic of China issued the Circular on Regulating the Order of Internet Reproduction of Copyrighted Works. Under this circular, in order to reproduce the work of others, internet media must comply with relevant provisions of the copyright laws and regulations and, unless otherwise provided by law or regulation, must obtain permission from, and pay remuneration to, the owner of the copyrighted work, and must indicate the name of the author as well as the title and the source of the work, and may not infringe any other rights or interests of the copyright owner. Moreover, when reproducing the works of others, internet media must not make material alterations to the content of the work.
The Standing Committee of National People’s Congress adopted the Copyright Law of the PRC in 1990 and amended it in 2001, 2010 and 2020, respectively. The latest amended Copyright Law will take effect on June 1, 2021, pursuant to which, relevant provisions on copyright protection in cyberspace have been further improved and the description of “cinematographic works or works created using methods similar to film making” are revised as “audio-visual works”.
On June 28, 2016, the CAC published the first regulation of mobile applications in the PRC, the Administrative Provisions on Information Services for Mobile Internet Applications (the “App Administrative Provisions”). These provisions expressly require mobile application providers to obtain the relevant operation licenses and hold the mobile application providers strictly responsible for the implementation of information security management regarding the applications they distribute or operate. The App Administrative Provisions also require mobile application providers to: (i) verify the identity and contact information of their registered users; (ii) establish an appropriate mechanism to protect its users’ personal data; (iii) develop an adequate censorship mechanism for any information published through their applications; (iv) protect their users’ rights to be informed if their applications need to gain access to the users’ personal details and refrain from accessing the functions unrelated to the relevant applications without the users’ consent; (v) protect their users’ intellectual property rights; and (vi) maintain internal records of users’ activities for 60 days.
On December 15, 2019, the CAC issued the Provisions on the Ecological Governance of Network Information Content, which took effect on March 1, 2020. For the purpose of these provisions, the term “ecological governance of network information contents” refers to the relevant activities carried out by governments, enterprises, society, internet users and other parties to promote positive energy, and dispose of illegal and harmful information. According to these provisions, a network information content service platform has a duty to act as the information content administrator, to strengthen the ecological governance of the network information content on the platform and to promote the formation of positive cyber culture towards kindness. Network information content service platforms are required to set up the mechanism of ecological governance of the network information content, develop detailed rules for ecological governance of network information content on the platform, and improve the systems for user registration, account management, information release and examination, post and comments examination, ecological page management, real-time inspection, emergency response, and disposal of cyber rumors and black industry chain information.
Regulations on Information Security and Censorship
Regulations governing information security and censorship include:
|●||The Administrative Measures for Protection of the Security of International Internetworking of Computer Information Networks (1997, revised in 2011);|
|●||Provisions for the Administration of Keeping Secrets in the International Internetworking of Computer Information Systems (2000);|
|●||Measures for Cybersecurity Censorship (2020).|
Under various Laws, ICP operators and internet publishers are prohibited from posting or displaying any content that:
Failure to comply with the content censorship requirements may result in the revocation of licenses and the closing down of the concerned websites or other online and mobile platforms. In addition, it is mandatory for internet companies in the PRC to complete security-filing procedures and regularly update information security and censorship systems for their websites and other online and mobile platforms with the local public security bureau. On June 22, 2007, the Ministry of Public Security, the State Secrecy Bureau, the State Cryptography Administration Bureau and the SCIO jointly issued the Administrative Regulations for the Classified Protection of Information Security, according to which websites should determine the protection classification of their information systems pursuant to a classification guideline and file their classification with the Ministry of Public Security or its bureaus at or above the municipal level with subordinate districts.
On December 28, 2012, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the Decision on Strengthening Network Information Protection (the “Information Protection Decision”), which provides that electronic information through which a citizen’s identity can be identified or in which a citizen’s privacy is involved (“Personal Information”), is protected and no person shall steal, illegally obtain, sell or illegally provide to others any Personal Information. Also, according to the Information Protection Decision, where a network service provider provides website access service, or handles network access formalities for fixed-line telephones or mobile phones, or provides information publication services to its users, it shall require users to provide authentic identity information when concluding agreements or confirming provisions of its service with the users.
On July 16, 2013, MIIT issued the Provisions on Protection of Personal Information of Telecommunication and Internet Users, which defines “Personal Information” as information that can identify the user either on its own or in combination with other information that is collected in the course of providing services by telecommunication business operators and internet information service providers, and sets out detailed provisions concerning the collection and utilization of Personal Information.
On February 4, 2015, the CAC issued the Internet User Account Name Management Regulations, which defines “Internet User Account Name” as an account name registered or used in internet information services, including without limitation, blogs, micro-blogs, instant communication tools, forums and thread comments. In addition, according to the regulations, internet information service providers must prohibit their users from using any illegal or harmful information in their account name, avatar, profile or other registration information.
On November 7, 2016, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress promulgated the Cyber Security Law, which became effective on June 1, 2017. In accordance with the Cyber Security Law, network operators must comply with applicable laws and regulations and fulfill their obligations to safeguard network security in conducting business and providing services. Network service providers must take technical and other necessary measures as required by Laws to safeguard the operation of networks, respond to network security effectively, prevent illegal and criminal activities, and maintain the integrity, confidentiality and usability of network data. In addition, network operators must not collect personal information irrelevant to their services. In addition, the Cyber Security Law provides that personal information and important data collected and generated by an operator of critical information infrastructure in the course of its operations in the PRC must be stored in the PRC. In the event of any unauthorized disclosure, damage or loss of collected personal information, network operators must take immediate remedial measures, notify the affected users and report the incidents to the relevant authorities in a timely manner.
On April 11, 2017, the CAC released the Draft Measures on Security Assessment of the Cross-Border Transfer of Personal Information and Important Data (the "Draft Cross-Border Transfer Measures"), which require personal information and important data collected or produced by network operators during their operations in China to be stored within China. According to the Draft Cross-Border Transfer Measures, assessment by relevant regulatory authority or the national cyberspace authority under certain circumstances must be completed before transferring the data overseas. Furthermore, data may not be transferred overseas without consent from the concerned individual(s), or if the transfer endangers the interests of individuals or public security. The CAC completed the solicitation of comments on the Draft Cross-Border Transfer Measures in May 2017, but there remain substantial uncertainties with respect to its final content and enactment timetable.
The Administrative Provisions on the Information Services Provided through Official Accounts of Internet Users, the Administrative Provisions on the Information Services Provided through Chat Groups on the Internet, the Administrative Provisions on Internet Follow-up Comment Services, and the Administrative Provisions on Internet Forum and Community Services each requires that providers of the aforesaid services shall, under the principle of requiring “mandatory registration of legal name of users and encouraged voluntary use of real name as screen name,” authenticate the identity of each of their registered users and take necessary measures to protect their users’ personal identity.
On May 28, 2019, the CAC promulgated the Draft Data Security Measure for public consultation. The Data Security Measure provides for a number of implementing provisions concerning aspects of data collection, data usage and processing, and data security administration. Network operators that violate the Data Security Measures may be subject to public exposure, confiscation of illegal gains, suspension or a shut-down of their business, disabling of their website or the revocation of relevant business permits or licenses.
On March 6, 2020, the SAMR and Standardization Administration jointly issued the Standard of Information Security Technology—Personal Information Security Specification (GB/T 35273-2020), which took effect on October 1, 2020 and substitute the 2017 version. Pursuant to the standard, any entity or person who has the authority or right to determine the purposes for and methods of using or processing personal information are seen as a personal information controller. Such personal information controller is required to collect information in accordance with applicable laws, and except in certain specific events that are expressly exempted in the standard, prior to collecting such data, the information provider’s consent is required. The 2020 version of Personal Information Security Specification includes the following changes compared with the 2017 version: (i) adding new requirements to prevent excessive collection of personal data; (ii) adding new requirements concerning user profiling and personalized display; (iii) Adding new requirements concerning third-party plugins; (iv) adjusting requirements on organizational measures; and (v) adding new requirements concerning personal biometric data.
On April 13, 2020, the CAC and several other government authorities jointly promulgated the Measures for Cybersecurity Censorship (the “Censorship Measures”), which took effect on June 1, 2020. In accordance with the Censorship Measures, any purchase of network products and services by critical information infrastructure operators, which affects or may affect state security, shall be subject to cybersecurity censorship fields. Since the measures were recently promulgated, there exists uncertainties with respect to their interpretation and implementation.
On May 28, 2020, the National People’s Congress issued the PRC Civil Code, which took effect on January 1, 2021. In accordance with the PRC Civil Code, natural person’s personal information shall be protected by law, and the processing of personal information shall be subject to the principle of legitimacy, rightfulness and necessity, with no excessive processing.
The Draft PRC Data Security Law was released by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in July 2020 for public consultation. The Draft PRC Data Security Law stipulates the measures to support and promote data security and development, to establish and optimize the national data security management system, and to clarify organizations’ and individuals’ responsibilities in data security.
On September 22, 2020, the Ministry of Public Security issued the Guiding Opinions on Implementing the Multi-Level Protection System for Cybersecurity and the Security Protection System for Critical Information Infrastructure, which took effect on the same date. The work objectives of the above-mentioned Guiding Opinions include: (i) implementing the cybersecurity MLPS; (ii) establishing and implementing the critical information infrastructure security protection system; (iii) markedly increasing cybersecurity monitoring, early warning and emergency response capabilities; and (iv) creating a comprehensive cybersecurity protection and control system. Since the measures were recently promulgated, there exists uncertainties with respect to their interpretation and implementation.
The Draft Personal Data Protection Law (the “Draft PDPL”) was released by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in October 2020 for public consultation. The Draft PDPL stipulates the scope of personal information and the ways of processing personal information, establishes rules for processing personal information and for transferring personal information offshore, and clarifies the individual’s rights and the processor’s obligations in the process of personal information. The Draft PDPL also strengthens the punishment for those who illegally process personal information. The Draft PDPL is still subject to public consultation and will be further revised in the future.
As we expand our operations internationally, we may be also subject to privacy laws and data security laws of other jurisdictions in which we operate, including the GDPR. The GDPR applies directly in all European Union member states from May 25, 2018 and applies to companies with an establishment in the European Economic Area, or EEA, and to certain other companies not in the EEA that offer or provide goods or services to individuals located in the EEA or monitor individuals located in the EEA. The GDPR implements stringent operational requirements for controllers and processors of personal data, including, for example, expanded disclosures on how personal data is to be used, limitations on retention of information and implementation of appropriate safeguards for transfer of personal data out of the EEA, increased cyber security requirements, mandatory data breach notification requirements and higher standards for controllers to demonstrate that they have obtained a valid legal basis for certain data processing activities. Failure to comply with European Union laws and other laws relating to the security of personal data may result in significant fines, such as those applicable under the GDPR which can amount up to EUR20,000,000 or up to 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, if greater, and other administrative penalties including criminal liability.
California has also recently enacted legislation affording consumers expanded privacy protections, including the CCPA, that went into effect as of January 1, 2020. For example, the CCPA gives California residents (including employees, though only in limited circumstances until January 1, 2023), expanded rights to transparency (e.g., detailed information about how personal information is collected, used, and shared) regarding, access to, and deletion of their personal information, and a right to opt out of the sharing of certain personal information. The California Attorney General issued implementing regulations that also add requirements on businesses. The CCPA provides for civil penalties for violations enforced by the California Attorney General, as well as a private right of action for certain data breaches that may increase data breach litigation and liability, in light of the potential for statutory damages. Additionally, a new privacy law, the CPRA was approved by California voters in the November 3, 2020 election. The CPRA significantly modifies the CCPA, potentially resulting in further uncertainty and requiring us to incur additional costs and expenses in efforts to comply.
Regulations on Online Games
Pursuant to the Provisional Regulations for the Administration of Online Culture promulgated by the MOC in May 2003, and last revised in December 2017, online game operators are required to obtain an Internet Culture Operating License from relevant local departments of the MOC. On May 14, 2019, the General Office of the MOCT issued the Circular on Adjusting the Scope of Examination and Approval of Online Culture Business Permit and Further Regulating the Work Concerning Examination and Approval (the “MOCT Notice 81”), pursuant to which, the MOCT is no longer responsible for the administration and supervision of online games and local counterparts of the MOCT may no longer approve Internet Culture Operating Licenses that involve online game operation via information networks (with or without distribution of virtual currency of online games) and virtual currency of online games trading operation via information networks. Internet Culture Operating Licenses that are already issued and only contain the above business scope will remain effective until their expiration. As of date of the annual report, no laws, regulations or official guidelines have been promulgated on whether the responsibility of MOCT for regulating online games will be undertaken by another governmental department.
On June 4, 2009, the MOC and MOFCOM jointly issued the Notice on Strengthening Administration on Online Game Virtual Currency (the “Online Game Virtual Currency Notice”). According to this notice, online game virtual currency should only be used to exchange virtual services provided by the issuing enterprise for a designated extent and time, and is strictly prohibited from being used to purchase tangible products or any service or product of another enterprise. In addition, the Online Game Virtual Currency Notice requires the issuing enterprise to give users 60 days prior notice and refund in the form of legal tender or other forms acceptable to users in case it plans to terminate the provision of its products or services.
The publication of online games also requires approval from SAPPRFT in accordance with the Rules for the Administration of Online Publishing Service. In March 2018, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China issued the Plans for Deepening the Institutional Reform of the Party and State and the National People’s Congress issued the Institutional Reform Plan of the State Council (collectively, the “Institutional Reform Plans”). According to the Institutional Reform Plans, the SAPPRFT is reformed and became the NRTA, under the State Council and NPPA under the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and the MOC is reformed and became the MOCT. Starting from March 2018, the SAPPRFT at the national level temporarily suspended its approval of online games, which was later resumed in December 2018. Since the first quarter of 2019, the NPPA has kept publishing the Online Game Approval Lists on its website.
In addition, in April 2007, GAPP and several other government authorities jointly promulgated the Notice Concerning the Protection of Minors’ Physical and Mental Well-being and Implementation of Anti-addiction System on Online Games (the “Anti-Addiction Notice”), which confirms the real name verification scheme and anti-addiction system standard made by GAPP in previous years and requires online game operators to develop and test their anti-addiction systems from April 2007 to July 2007, after which no online games can be registered or operated without an anti-addiction system, in accordance with the Anti-Addiction Notice. On January 15, 2011, the MOC and several other government authorities jointly issued the Notice on Implementation Program of Online Game Monitoring System of the Guardians of Minors (the “Monitoring System Notice”), which requires online game operators to adopt certain measures to maintain an interactive system for the protection of minors. Through communication with online game operators, parents may monitor and restrict online game activities by minors, including restriction or suspension of playtime. On July 1, 2011, GAPP and several other government authorities jointly issued the Notice Regarding the Initiation of Work on the Online Games Real-Name Verification System to Prevent Online Gaming Addiction, which requires that online game operators be responsible for data registration and identification of online game users, and that online game operators shall duly submit user identification information for verification with the Ministry of Public Security’s National Citizen Identity Information Center (the “NCIIC”), which will be in charge of real-name verification for the national anti-addiction system. In addition, online game operators must ensure that, via the NCIIC real-name verification, users with fraudulent identification data be enrolled in the operators’ anti-addiction systems.
On July 25, 2014, the SAPPRFT issued the Notice Regarding the Implementation of the Anti-Addiction and Real-Name Verification System in Online Games, which requires online game operators to complete their real-name verification procedure for online games when applying for publication of online games. On August 30, 2018, the Implementation Scheme on Comprehensive Prevention and Control of Adolescent Myopia (the “Implementation Scheme”) was issued jointly by eight PRC regulatory authorities at the national level, including the NPPA and the NRTA. The Implementation Scheme provides that as a part of the plan to prevent myopia among children, the NPPA will control the number of new online games, and take steps to restrict the amount of time children spend on playing online games. On October 25, 2019, the NPPA promulgated the Notice on Preventing Minors from Indulging in Online Games, according to which the length of minors’ use of online games should be strictly controlled. It requires all online game users to register their identification information. The total length of time for minors to access online games must be limited on a daily basis. Every day from 22:00 to 8:00 the next day, online game companies are not permitted to provide game services to minors in any form. Game services provided to minors must not exceed three hours per day on public holidays and 1.5 hours on other days. In addition, online transactions are capped monthly at RMB200 or RMB400, depending on a minor’s age.
On September 7, 2009, the Office of the Central Institutional Organization Commission issued the Notice on Interpretation of the Office of the Central Institutional Organization Commission on Several Provisions relating to Animation, Online Games and Comprehensive Law Enforcement in the Culture Market in the “Three Provisions” jointly promulgated by the MOC, the SARFT and the GAPP, or Circular 35. According to this Circular 35, GAPP shall be responsible for the examination and approval of online games made available on the internet, and once an online game is available on the internet, it shall be solely and completely administrated by the MOC. The circular further clarifies that the GAPP shall be responsible for the examination and approval of the game publications authorized by overseas copyright owners to be made available on the internet, and all other imported online games shall be examined and approved by the MOC. However, according to the MOCT Notice 81, the MOCT shall no longer be responsible for administration and supervision of online games and the local counterparts of the MOCT shall no longer approve or issue online culture business permits that involve business scope such as online game operation via information network. As of the date of the annual report, Circular 35 has not been repealed and is still effective. Given that the MOCT Notice 81 is relatively new and it is unclear how these three Provisions will be amended, we are unable to fully assess what impact, if any, these new requirements may have on our business.
On September 28, 2009, GAPP, the National Copyright Administration and the National Office of Combating Pornography and Illegal Publications jointly published the Notice Regarding the Consistent Implementation of the “Regulation on Three Provisions” of the State Council and the Relevant Interpretations of the State Commission Office for Public Sector Reform and the Further Strengthening of the Administration of Examination and Approval of Online Games and the Examination and Approval of Imported Online Games, or Circular 13. According to Circular 13, no entity should engage in the operation of online games without receiving an Internet Publishing License and the approval from GAPP. Circular 13 expressly prohibits foreign investors from participating in online game operating business via wholly owned, equity joint venture or cooperative joint venture investments in China, and from controlling and participating in these businesses directly or indirectly through contractual or technical support arrangements. Moreover, for online games that have been approved by GAPP, when the operational entity changes, or when new versions, expansion packs or new content is implemented, the operating entity shall once again undertake the same procedures for examination and approval by GAPP of the changed operating entity, new versions, expansion packs or new content. On May 24, 2016, SAPPRFT issued the Circular on the Administration over Mobile Game Publishing Services, or Circular 44, which came into effect on July 1, 2016, and provides that no mobile game shall be published and operated online without the approval of the SAPPRFT.
The Interim Measures for the Administration of Online Games (the “Online Games Measures”) were issued by the MOC in June 2010 and repealed on July 10, 2019. The Online Games Measures set forth certain requirements regarding online games, including requirements that game operators follow certain registration procedures, publicize information about the content and suitability of their games, prevent access by minors to inappropriate games, avoid certain types of content in games targeted at minors, avoid game content that compels players to kill other players, manage virtual currency in certain ways and register users with their real identities. Accordingly, the Notice on Implementing Interim Measures for the Administration of Online Games (the “Online Games Notice”), in which several provisions of the Online Games Measures are supplemented, has also been repealed. In addition, since June 2018, the MOCT at the national level has closed the post-filing recording online system, through which the domestic online games were filed according to the post-filing requirements under the Online Games Measures and the Online Game Notice. As of date of the annual report, no government authority has issued or promulgated any provisions to replace the above-mentioned regulations.
On February 18, 1994, the State Council promulgated the Rules of the PRC for Protecting the Security of Computer Information Systems, and amended in 2011, which defines “Security Products for Computer Information Systems” as software and hardware products designed for the protection of computer information security and stipulates that a license must be obtained before selling Security Products for Computer Information Systems. The Ministry of Public Security issued the Measures for the Administration of Security Products for Computer Information Systems Examination and Sales on December 12, 1997 confirming that a license for the sale of security products for computer information systems must be obtained as a precondition for sales of these products.
The Regulations for the Administration of Audio and Video Products, which was released by the State Council on December 25, 2001 and last amended in November 2020, requires that the publication, production, duplication, importation, wholesale, retail and renting of audio and video products are subject to a license issued by competent authorities.
On June 19, 2018, the MOCT issued the National Cultural Market Blacklist Management Measures, according to which the cultural administrative department or the comprehensive law enforcement agency of the cultural market shall list the entities and persons in the cultural market that have seriously violated laws and have broken their trust in the national cultural market blacklist, and shall make it public, and adopt credit constraints and joint punishment.
The CAC issued the Children’s Provisions, which took effect on October 1, 2019. According to the Children’s Provisions, no organization or individual is allowed to produce, release or disseminate information that infringes upon the personal information security of children under 14. Network operators collecting, storing, using, transferring or disclosing children’s personal information are required to enact special protections for this information.
Recently, there has been an increased focus on ensuring that mobile apps comply with privacy regulations. The Announcement of Launching Special Crackdown Against Illegal Collection and Use of Personal Information by Apps was issued with effect on January 23, 2019, and commenced a coordinated effort among the CAC, the MIIT, the Ministry of Public Security and the SAMR to combat the illegal collection and use of personal information by mobile apps throughout the PRC. On October 31, 2019, the MIIT issued the Notice on the Special Rectification of Apps Infringing Users’ Rights and Interests, pursuant to which app providers were required to promptly rectify issues the MIIT designated as infringing app users’ rights such as collecting personal information in violation of PRC regulations and setting obstacles for user account deactivation. On July 22, 2020, MIIT issued the Notice on Carrying out Special Rectification Actions in Depth against the Infringement upon Users’ Rights and Interests by Apps to rectify the following problems (i) illegal processing of personal information of users by the APP and the SDK; (ii) the conduct of setting up obstacles and frequently harassing users; (iii) cheating and misleading users; and (iv) inadequate implementation of application distribution platforms’ responsibilities.
On October 21, 2019, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate jointly issued the Fa Shi No. 15, which became effective on November 1, 2019. The Fa Shi No. 15 interpreted several issues concerning the application of law in handling criminal cases such as refusing to fulfil the obligation of managing the security of information networks, illegally using information networks and assisting in criminal activities committed through information networks, in accordance with the Criminal Law of the PRC and the Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC.
Regulations on Private Education
The PRC Education Law (the “Education Law”), sets forth provisions relating to the fundamental education systems of the PRC, including a school system of pre-school education, primary education, secondary education and higher education, a system of nine-year compulsory education and a system of education certificates. The Education Law stipulates that the government formulates plans for the development of education, establishes and operates schools and other types of educational institutions, and in principle, enterprises, institutions, social organizations and individuals are encouraged to operate schools and other types of educational organizations in accordance with PRC Laws.
On December 28, 2002, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, promulgated the Law for Promoting Private Education (the “Private Education Law”), which was last amended on December 29, 2018. Under the amended Private Education Law, sponsors of private schools may choose to establish non-profit or for-profit private schools at their own discretion and the establishment of the private schools shall be subject to approvals granted by relevant government authorities and registered with relevant registration authorities.
On August 10, 2018, the Ministry of Justice, or MOJ, published the draft amendment to the Regulations on the Implementation of the Law for Promoting Private Education of the PRC (the “MOJ Draft”), for public comment. As of the date of the annual report, the MOJ Draft is still pending for final approval and is not in effect. The MOJ Draft stipulates that private schools using internet technology to provide online diploma-awarding educational courses shall obtain the private school operating permit of similar academic education at the same level, as well as the internet operating permit. Institutions that use internet technology to provide training and educational activities, vocational qualification and vocational skills training, or providing an internet technology service platform for the above activities, would need to obtain the corresponding internet operating permit and file with the administrative department for education or the department of human resources and social security at the provincial level where the institution is domiciled, and these institutions shall not provide educational and teaching activities that requires the private school operating permit. The internet technology service platform that provides the training and educational activities shall review and register the identity information of institutions or individuals applying for access to the platform.
The MOJ Draft further stipulates that the establishment of private training and educational organizations enrolling students of kindergarten, primary school, middle and high school age and providing activities relating to cultural and educational courses at school, or examination related and further education-related tutoring and other cultural and educational activities, shall obtain a private school operating permit from the administrative departments for education at or above the county level. The establishment of private training and educational organizations that provide activities aiming at quality promotion, personality development in the areas of linguistic competence, arts, physical activities, technology, and activities targeting at cultural education for adults and non-degree continuing education, can apply to register as the legal person directly; however, such private training and/or educational organizations shall not carry out the cultural and educational activities mentioned above, which requires a private school operating permit. In addition, entities implementing group-based education shall not control non-profit schools by merger, acquisition, franchise or contractual arrangements.
Uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and application of the existing and future Laws governing the online private education industry, as well as when and how the MOJ Draft would come into effect and how the local government would promulgate implementing rules relating to the specific requirements applicable to online education service providers.
Regulations on After-school Tutoring and Educational Apps
On February 13, 2018, the Ministry of Education, or the MOE, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the SAIC (currently known as the SAMR) jointly promulgated the Circular on Alleviating After-school Burden on Elementary and Secondary School Students and Implementing Inspections on After-school Training Institutions, or Circular 3. Pursuant to Circular 3, the above government authorities will carry out a series of inspections on after-school training institutions and order those with material potential safety risks to suspend business for self-inspection and rectification, and those without proper establishment licenses or school operating permits to apply for relevant qualifications and certificates under the guidance of competent government authorities. Moreover, after-school training institutions must file with the local education authorities and make public the classes, courses, target students, class hours and other information relating to their academic training courses (including primarily courses on Chinese and mathematics). After-school training institutions are prohibited from providing academic training services beyond the scope or above the level of school textbooks, or organizing any academic competitions or level tests for students of elementary or middle schools. In addition, elementary or middle schools may not reference a student’s performance in the after-school training institutions as part of their admission criteria.
On August 6, 2018, the State Council issued the Opinion on the Regulation of the Development of After-school Training Institutions, or State Council Circular 80, which primarily regulates after-school training institutions targeting K-12 students. State Council Circular 80 reiterates prior guidance that after-school training institutions must obtain a private school operating permit, and further requires these institutions to meet certain minimum requirements. According to the circular, after-school training institutions are required to disclose and file relevant information regarding the institution, including their training content, schedule, targeted students and school timetable to the relevant education authority, and their training classes may not end later than 8:30 p.m. each day or otherwise conflict with the teaching time of local primary and secondary schools. In relation to online education service providers, State Council Circular 80 generally provides that regulatory authorities of networking, culture, information technology, radio and television industries shall cooperate with the education department in supervising online education within their relevant industry. On May 6, 2020, the General Office of the MOE promulgated the Notice on the Negative List of Advanced Trainings for Six Compulsory Education Subjects (for Trial Implementation), which, in accordance with the State Council Circular 80, prohibits after-school training institutions from providing advanced trainings that do not follow the formal school curricula to the students in primary school and secondary school, and further defined activities that will be regarded as advanced training in the subjects of Chinese, mathematics, English, physics, chemistry and biology.
On August 30, 2018, the MOE, SAMR and certain other government authorities issued the Implementation Scheme which requires, among others, that the schools shall (i) shall use electronic products based on the principle of necessity, shall not rely on electronic products for teaching and homework assignment and shall rather assign paper-based homework in principle, and the teaching time using electronic products shall account for, in principle, not more than 30% of the total teaching time, and (ii) shall strictly implement the learning and development guidelines for children aged 3-6, pay attention to the value of life and play for these children and shall not teach them primary-school-level lessons.
On November 20, 2018, the General Office of the MOE, the General Office of the SAMR and the General Office of the Ministry of Emergency Management of the PRC jointly issued the Notice on Improving the Specific Governance and Rectification Mechanisms of After-school Education Institutions, or Circular 10, which provides that provincial education departments shall be responsible for the filing of training institutions that uses internet technology to provide online training for primary and middle school students. Provincial education departments shall regulate the online after-school training institutions based on the management policies governing offline afterschool training institutions. In addition, online after-school education institutions shall file the information of their courses, such as names, contents, target students, syllabi and schedules with the provincial education departments and shall publish the name, photo, class schedule and certificate number of the teacher qualification license of each teacher on their websites.
On December 25, 2018, the General Office of the MOE issued the Notice on Strictly Forbidding Harmful APP Entering Primary and Secondary Schools, which stipulates, among other things, that: (i) local primary schools, secondary schools and education departments, shall conduct comprehensive investigation on apps used on campus, and shall call off using any apps that contain harmful content such as commercial advertisements and internet games, or increase the burden on students; and (ii) the filing and reviewing system of learning apps shall be established.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party and the State Council jointly issued the Opinions on the Further Reform of Education and Teaching and Comprehensive Improvement on the Compulsory Education Quality (the “Opinions”), which became effective on June 23, 2019. The Opinions stipulates, among other things, that: (i) the SAMR and its local counterparts shall be responsible for the registrations and filings of all after-school training institutions and shall supervise and govern their operational behaviors, such as advertising, fee collecting, and antitrust competitions; and (ii) the integrated application of information technology and education shall be promoted, and the “education plus internet” operation model shall be encouraged, but in the meantime, the approval and supervision system for digital educational resource applied by schools shall be established.
Moreover, the MOE, jointly with certain other PRC government authorities, issued the Opinions on Guiding and Regulating the Orderly and Healthy Development of Educational Mobile Apps on August 10, 2019 (the “Opinions on Educational Apps”), which requires, among others, mobile apps that provide services for school teaching and management, student learning and student life, or home-school interactions, with school faculty, students or parents as the main users, and with education or learning as the main application scenarios (the “Educational Apps”), be filed with competent provincial regulatory authorities for education. The Opinions on Educational Apps also requires, among others, that: (i) before filing, the Educational App’s provider obtain the ICP license or complete the ICP filing and obtain the certificate and the grade evaluation report for graded protection of cybersecurity; (ii) Educational Apps whose main users are under the age of 18 must limit the use time, specify the range of suitable ages, and have strictly monitored content; (iii) before an Educational App is introduced as a mandatory app to students, the Educational App must be approved by the applicable school through its collective decision-making process and be filed with the competent education authority; and (iv) Educational Apps adopted by education authorities and schools as their uniformly used teaching or management tools shall not charge the students or parents any fee, and not offer any commercial advertisements or games. On November 11, 2019, MOE issued the Administrative Measures on Filing of Educational Mobile Apps. In 2020, the MOE established a public complaints channel with respect to educational apps. The educational apps provider or user may be complained due to a wide variety of matters, among other things, failure to complete the filing or obtain relevant permits, existence of internet illegal or improper information, collect or unreasonably use personal information in violation of relevant laws and regulations, violations of the requirements on educational apps used by primary and secondary schools, violations of the Online After-school Training Opinions. The MOE sets a scoring system with respect to such complaints. Each educational app provider shall have 12 points during a period of 12 months. If serious complaints were to occur and substantiated by relevant government authority, corresponding penalty points will be recorded and such educational app provider may be required to rectify relevant noncompliance. In the event that 12 penalty points are recorded within a period of 12 months or the most serious compliant were to occur, filings of relevant educational apps may be revoked, relevant educational apps may be removed from apps store, educational apps provider may be blacklisted and made public and the involved provider may be prohibited to submit filings of educational apps within 6 months.
On September 19, 2019, the MOE, jointly with certain other PRC government authorities, issued the Guidance Opinions on Promoting the Healthy Development of Online Education, which provides, among other things, that: (i) social forces are encouraged to establish online education institutions, develop online education resources, and provide high quality education services; and (ii) an online education negative list shall be promulgated and industries not included in the negative list are open for all types of entities to enter into.
On June 10, 2020, the General Office of MOE and the General Office of SAMR promulgated the Notice on Issuing the Form of Service Contract for After-school Training Provided to Primary and Secondary School Students, which requires the local competent regulatory authorities to guide the relevant parties to use the form of service contract for after-school training activities provided to primary and secondary school students. The form of service contract covers the obligations and rights of parties involved in the after-school training, including detailed provisions on training fees, refund arrangement and default liabilities.
On October 16, 2020, the General Office of the MOE and the General Office of the SAMR jointly promulgated the Notice on the Centralized Rectification of After-school Tutoring Institutions’ Illegal Acts of Infringing Consumers’ Rights by Using Unfair Standard Terms. The Notice stipulates that local education and market regulation authorities shall increase the efforts for the investigation of after-school tutoring institutions’ illegal acts which infringes consumers’ rights by using unfair standard terms/ to exempt them from their own responsibility, increase consumers’ liability and exclude consumers’ legal rights.
The Law of the PRC on the Protection of Minors (“Minors Protection Law”) issued by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on September 4, 1991 was recently amended on October 17 2020, which will take effect on June 1, 2021. According to the amended Minors Protection Law, kindergartens and after-school training agencies may not carry out primary school curriculum education for the preschool-aged minors, and online education products and services which are targeted at minors shall not include any links to online games or push any advertisements and other information irrelevant to teaching.
The MOE, jointly with certain other PRC government authorities, promulgated the Implementation Opinions on Regulating Online After-School Training (the “Online After-School Training Opinions”), effective on July 12, 2019. The Online After-School Training Opinions are intended to regulate academic after-school training involving internet technology provided to students in primary and secondary schools. Among other things, the Online After-School Training Opinions requires that online afterschool training institutions file with the competent provincial education regulatory authorities and that the education regulatory authorities shall, jointly with other provincial government authorities, review the filings and the qualifications of the online after-school training institutions submitting these filings.
With respect to the filing requirements, the Online After-School Training Opinions provides, among other things: (i) an online after-school training institution shall file with the competent provincial education regulatory authorities at the place of its domicile after it has obtained the ICP license and the certificate and the grade evaluation report for the graded protection of cyber security; (ii) the online after-school training institutions shall file, among other things, (x) materials related to the institution itself, including information on their respective ICP licenses and other relevant licenses and the materials related to certain management systems regarding the protection of personal information and cyber security, (y) materials related to the training content, and (z) materials related to the training personnel; and (iii) the competent provincial education regulatory authorities shall promulgate local implementing rules on the filing requirements, focusing on training institutions, training content and training personnel. The Online After-School Training Opinions further provides that the competent provincial education regulatory authorities shall, jointly with other provincial government authorities, review the filings and the qualification of the online after-school training institutions submitting the filings before the end of December 2019.
Regulations on E-commerce
The E-Commerce Law of the PRC, which was promulgated on August 31, 2018 and became effective on January 1, 2019, set out detailed obligations for operators of e-commerce businesses and e-commerce platforms and guidelines in terms of contract performance and dispute resolutions in relation to e-commerce. Pursuant to this law, e-commerce operators shall, for example: (i) present unbiased search results and general product recommendations that are not based on a potential customer’s particular purchase history and personal profile in addition to tailored product recommendations and services; and (ii) not cite any provision of a form contract or any other means to invalidate an agreement with a customer after it has received payment from that customer. In addition, e-commerce platform operators shall: (i) report information such as identity and tax information of third-party vendors to relevant authorities; (ii) make platform service agreement or web-links thereto prominently displayed and accessible on its homepage; (iii) be jointly liable in the event that the platform operator fails to take necessary measures when it has or should have the knowledge that any vendor using its platform has infringed consumers’ rights; and (iv) be jointly liable for any damage or threat to a customer’s personal health and wellbeing caused by the products sold on its platform if a platform operator fails to examine the qualifications of its vendor using its platform or fails to protect its customers’ safety in respect of goods or services that may affect a customer’s health. We are subject to this new law as both an e-commerce business operator and e-commerce platform operator. Failure to comply with this law could subject us to civil liabilities or administrative penalties.
The PRC Consumer Protection Law, as amended on October 25, 2013, sets out the obligations of business operators and the rights and interests of consumers. Pursuant to this law, business operators must guarantee that the commodities they sell satisfy the requirements for personal or property safety, provide consumers with authentic information about the commodities, and guarantee the quality, function, usage and term of the validity of commodities. The amendment in 2013 further strengthens the protection of consumers and imposes more stringent requirements and obligations on business operators, especially on the businesses operating through the internet. For example, consumers are entitled to return the goods (except for certain specified goods) within seven days upon receipt without any reasons when they purchase the goods from business operators via the internet. When a consumer purchases products (including cosmetics and food) or accepts services via an online trading platform and his/her interests are prejudiced, if the online trading platform provider fails to provide the name, address and valid contact information of the seller, the manufacturer or the service provider, the consumer is entitled to demand compensation from the online trading platform provider. Failure to comply with this law may subject business operators to civil liabilities such as refunding purchase prices, replacement of commodities, repairing or ceasing damages, compensation, and restoring the reputation, and could subject business operators or the responsible individuals to criminal penalties when personal damages are involved or if the circumstances are severe.
On January 5, 2015, SAIC issued the Measures for the Punishment of Conduct Infringing the Rights and Interests of Consumers (the “Consumer Conduct Measures”), which was amended on October 23, 2020 and became effective on the same date. According to these measures, business operators are prohibited from a wide range of activities that would infringe upon the rights and interests of consumers, including but not limited to collecting and using information related to consumers without their consent, illegally providing third parties with this information in any form, or sending promotional message to consumers despite their express refusal. On January 6, 2017, SAIC issued the Interim Measures for Return of Online Purchases within seven Days without Reason (the “Online Return Measures”), which was amended on October 23, 2020 and became effective on the same date. According to these measures, any consumer goods purchased online could be returned without any reason, if in good condition and are returned within seven days of receipt with signature from the consumers, except for customized products, fresh or live products, perishable goods, digital products, newspapers, periodicals and the goods confirmed to be exempted from the Online Return Measures by consumers at the time of purchase. On November 21, 2019, the SAMR issued the Interim Provisions on Administration of Consumer Product Recalls, which became effective on January 1, 2020. The provisions clarify the recall obligations and responsibilities of both the producers of consumer goods and the operators selling, leasing, or repairing consumer goods. Defects are defined in the provisions as unreasonable danger found commonly in the same batch, model number or type of consumer goods due to design, manufacturing, or labeling etc., which compromises personal safety and property safety. According to the provisions, manufacturers are accountable for the safety of consumer goods manufactured by them, and, where there are defects, the manufacturer must recall the goods.
The Food Safety Law of the PRC, promulgated on February 28, 2009 and effective on June 1, 2009, was amended on December 29, 2018 with effect from the same date. This amendment sets out a new and stricter regulation framework for the production and circulation of food. On October 11, 2019, the State Council revised and adopted the Implementing Regulation for the Food Safety Law of the PRC, which became effective on December 1, 2019. The regulation underscores tougher supervision, requiring governments above county levels to establish a uniform and authoritative supervision mechanism to enhance supervisory capabilities. The regulation clarifies the primary responsibilities of producers and business operators in food safety, specifies the duties of major corporate leaders, regulates the storage and transportation of food products, bans false promotion of food products, and improves the management of special foods. Under the regulation, legal persons, persons in charge, managers who are directly in charge and individuals who are directly responsible will be fined if the entity they worked for was found to be intentionally committing an illegal act. However, it currently remains unclear if food distributed through the recently established cross-border e-commerce industry is required to comply with all the requirements set forth in the new Food Safety Law of the PRC and its implementing regulation.
Regulations on Online Advertising
According to the Regulations for the Administration of Advertising promulgated by the State Council, which took effect on December 1, 1987, websites engaged in advertising must apply for a business license to conduct such business.
On February 9, 2012, SAIC and several other government authorities jointly issued the Rules on Review of Advertisement Release by Public Media, which, among other things, states that public media (including internet information service providers) shall have advertisement reviewers, who must participate in and pass trainings in relation to advertisement laws, regulations and business, after which, the reviewers should perform tasks including reviewing advertisements to be released and managing advertisement review archives.
On April 24, 2015, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress enacted the Advertising Law of the PRC (the “New Advertising Law”), and amended on October 26, 2018. The New Advertising Law, which was a major overhaul of an advertising law enacted in 1994, increases the potential legal liability of advertising services providers, and includes provisions intended to strengthen identification of false advertising and the power of regulatory authorities. The New Advertising Law forbids the usage of certain words or phrases in advertisements, such as “national,” “supreme,” or “best” and provides a more detailed definition of “false advertisement.” The New Advertising Law also forbids sending advertisements to residences, vehicles, fixed or mobile telephones or personal email addresses if the advertisement is not invited or the receiver of the advertisement has rejected the advertising.
On July 4, 2016, SAIC promulgated the Provisional Measures of Internet Advertising Management, which took effect on September 1, 2016. According to these measures: (i) an internet advertisement should be identifiable and clearly labeled as “advertisement”; (ii) paid search advertisements should be clearly distinguished from natural search results; (iii) advertisements published in the form of pop-up or other forms should be clearly marked with a “Close” sign to ensure “Single Click to Close”; and (iv) no entity or individual may induce users to click on the contents of an advertisement through deception, or attach advertisements in any form to an e-mail without user’s permission.
Regulations on Internet Live Streaming Services
On November 4, 2016, the CAC issued Administrative Provisions on Internet Live-Streaming Services, which became effective on December 1, 2016. Under the regulation, “internet live streaming” refers to the activities of continuously releasing real-time information to the public based on the internet in forms such as video, audio, images and texts, and “internet live-streaming service providers” refers to the operators that provide internet live-streaming platform services. In addition, the internet live-streaming service providers shall take various measures when operating its services, such as examining and verifying the authenticity of the identification information and file this information for record.
On September 14, 2020, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the PRC issued the Notice on Deepening Reform of “Streamline Administration, Delegating Power and Improving Services” to Promote Prosperity and Development of the Performance Market, which took effect on the same date. Under this Notice, those who provide real time live artistic performance to the public through the internet for the purpose of making profits, shall go through the formalities of application for approval in accordance with the Regulations for the Administration of Commercial Performances and other relevant provisions, and the online communication services shall be provided by internet cultural units with network culture operation license. Since the Notice was recently promulgated, there exists uncertainties with respect to the formalities of application for approval.
On July 12, 2017, the CAC issued a Notice on Development of the Filing Work for Enterprises Providing Internet Live Streaming, which provides that all the companies providing internet live streaming services shall file with the local authority from July 15, 2017, otherwise the CAC or its local counterparts may impose administrative sanctions on such companies.
Pursuant to the Circular on Tightening the Administration of Internet Live Streaming Services jointly issued by the MIIT, the MOCT, and several other government agencies on August 1, 2018, live streaming services providers are required to file with the local public security authority within 30 days after it commences the service online.
The Law of the PRC on the Protection of Minors, or the Minors Protection Law, issued by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on September 4, 1991, was recently amended on October 17, 2020 and will take effect on June 1, 2021. Under the amended Minors Protection Law, online product and service providers shall avoid providing content for minors that might induce obsession by minors. Online product and service providers such as providers of online games, online broadcasts, online audio/video or online social networks shall set up appropriate functions such as the management of time, authority and spending of minors using their services.
In November 2020, NRTA issued the Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Online Show Live and E-commerce Live Streaming, which set forth registration requirements for platforms providing online show live streaming or e-commerce live streaming to have their information and business operations registered by November 30, 2020. The Notice made it clear that live streaming platforms should implement real-name management systems. Live streaming platforms should manage the contents of live studios and the corresponding hosts with labels by categories such as “music”, “dance”, “singing”, “fitness”, “games”, “travel”, “food” and “life services”. Live streaming platforms should set up business-level rating systems for live studios and hosts, refine program quality ratings and the rating systems if there are violations, and the recommendations or promotions for live studios and hosts shall be associated with such ratings.
Regulations on Online Music
On November 20, 2006, the Ministry of Culture issued the Several Opinions of the Ministry of Culture on the Development and Administration of Online Music, or the Online Music Opinions, which became effective on the same date. The Online Music Opinions provide that, among other things, an internet music service provider must obtain an Online Culture Operating Permit.
In 2010 and 2011, the MOC greatly intensified its regulations on online music products by issuing a series of circulars regarding online music industry, such as the Circular on Regulating the Market Order of Online Music Products and Renovating Illegal Conducts of Online Music Websites and the Circular on Investigating Illegal Online Music Websites in 2010. In addition, the Ministry of Culture issued the Circular on Clearing Illegal Online Music Products in 2011, which clarified that entities engaging in any of the following conducts will be subject to relevant penalties or sanctions imposed by the Ministry of Culture: (i) providing online music products or relevant services without obtaining corresponding qualifications; (ii) importing online music products that have not been reviewed by the Ministry of Culture; or (iii) providing domestically developed online music products that have not been filed with the Ministry of Culture.
On July 8, 2015, the National Copyright Administration issued the Circular regarding Ceasing Transmitting Unauthorized Music Products by Online Music Service Providers, which requires that: (i) all unauthorized music products on the platforms of online music services providers be removed prior to July 31, 2015, and (ii) the National Copyright Protection Center investigate and punish online music services providers who continue to transmit unauthorized music products following July 31, 2015. On October 23, 2015, the Ministry of Culture promulgated the Circular on Further Strengthening and Improving the Content Administration of Online Music, effective as of January 1, 2016, which provides that internet culture operating entities shall report through a nationwide administrative platform: (i) its content administration system, department, staffing, job responsibilities, monitoring process and specifications etc., to its local provincial cultural administrative department; and (ii) the details of its self-monitoring activities to the Ministry of Culture on a quarterly basis.
Regulations on Anti-Unfair Competition and Anti-Monopoly Matters
According to the PRC Anti-Unfair Competition Law, which took effect on December 1, 1993 and last amended on April 23, 2019, unfair competition refers to that the operator disrupts the market competition order and damages the legitimate rights and interests of other operators or consumers in violation of the provisions of the Anti-unfair Competition Law in the production and operating activities. Pursuant to the PRC Anti-unfair Competition Law, operators shall abide by the principle of voluntariness, equality, impartiality, integrity and adhere to laws and business ethics during market transactions, and operators in violation shall bear corresponding civil, administrative or criminal liabilities depending on the specific circumstances.
The PRC Anti-monopoly Law, which took effect on August 1, 2008, prohibits monopolistic conduct such as entering into monopoly agreements, abusing market dominance and concentration of undertakings that may have the effect of eliminating or restricting competition. On February 7, 2021, the Anti-monopoly Commission of the State Council promulgated the Guidelines to Anti-Monopoly in the Field of Internet Platforms, or the Anti-Monopoly Guidelines, which took effect on the same date and will operate as a compliance guidance for platform economy operators under the existing PRC anti-monopoly laws and regulations. The Anti-Monopoly Guidelines mainly covers five aspects, including general provisions, monopoly agreements, abusing market dominance, concentration of undertakings, and abusing of administrative powers eliminating or restricting competition.
Regulations on Payment and Finance Services
On June 14, 2010, the PBOC issued the Measures for the Administration of Non-financial Institutions Engaging in Payment and Settlement Services (the “PBOC Measures”), which was amended on April 29, 2020 and became effective on the same date. The PBOC Measures requires that non-financial institutions engaging in the payment business before September 1, 2010 obtain a permit, the Payment Service Permit, from the PBOC by August 31, 2011 to continue operating their business. On December 1, 2010, the PBOC issued the Implementation Rules for the Measures for the Administration of Non-financial Institutions Engaging in Payment and Settlement Services (Revised on June 2, 2020 and November 12, 2020), which further elaborates on the application qualification, material and procedure for the Payment Service Permit and further measures aiming at protecting the rights and interests of clients, including prominent disclosure of service rates, prior notice to clients before any modification can be made to the service rates or payment service agreement between a payment service provider and its clients. On December 28, 2015, the PBOC issued the Administrative Measures for Internet Payment Services of Non-banking Payment Institutions, which became effective on July 1, 2016, and requires that non-banking payment institutions implement the real-name verification system for payment accounts and take effective measures to verify the personal information of clients. The measures also require that if non-banking payment institutions engage in transferring money between payment accounts and bank accounts, all of these accounts shall be owned by the same client. On January 13, 2017, the PBOC issued the Notice of the PBOC on Matters concerning Implementing the Centralized Deposit of the Funds of Pending Payments of Clients of Payment Institutions, which requires that, from April 17, 2017, a payment institution shall deposit a certain percentage of the funds from its clients, pending payment from such clients, in a special deposit account with a designated financial institution where no interest on the percentage of funds shall accrue.
On January 19, 2021, the PBOC issued the Measures for Deposit and Management of Customer Reserve Funds by Non-bank Payment Institutions, or the Measures for Customer Reserve Funds, which became effective on March 1, 2021. The Measures for Customer Reserve Funds define “Clients’ Reserves” as funds actually received by non-bank payment institutions when processing payments for clients and payable upon clients’ order, which shall be fully deposited by the non-bank payment institutions into a dedicated deposit account held in the custody of banking institutions. The Measures for Customer Reserve Funds standardize the centralized deposit and management business of customer’s reserves after centralized deposit of reserves, further refine the provisions on deposit, use and transfer of reserves, clarify the corresponding reserve management responsibilities of the PBOC and its branches, clearing institutions and reserve banks, set punishment standards for violations of customer’s reserves and promote the healthy development of the industry health development. A six-month transitional period shall be set up following the implementation of the Measures for Customer Reserve Funds.
On July 18, 2015, PBOC, MIIT, Ministry of Public Security, MOF, SAIC, Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, CBRC, the CSRC, China Insurance Regulatory Commission and the CAC jointly issued the Guiding Opinions on Promoting the Healthy Development of Internet Finance, which was imperative in encouraging innovation, and support the steady development of internet finance. According to the above-mentioned Guiding Opinions, internet enterprises would be supported to set up internet payment institutions, online lending platforms, equity crowd-funding platforms and online financial product sales platforms in compliance with the law, and a multi-level financial services system that serves the real economy would be established to better meet the investment and financing needs of medium, small and micro-sized enterprises and individuals, and further expand the breadth, and increase the depth, of inclusive finance. According to the above-mentioned Guiding Opinions, e-commerce enterprises would be encouraged to build and improve their own online financial services systems under the premise of compliance with financial laws and regulations, and effectively expand the supply chain operations of e-commerce enterprises.
On September 15, 2020, PBOC issued the Implementing Measures for Protection of Financial Consumers’ Rights and Interests, which took effect on November 1, 2020. Under the implementing measures, when explaining important contents and disclosing risks to financial consumers, banks and payment institutions shall, in accordance with laws, regulations and regulatory provisions, keep the relevant materials for at least three years from the date of termination of the business relationship.
Regulations on Intellectual Property Rights
The PRC has adopted comprehensive legislation governing intellectual property rights, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and domain names.
According to the Patent Law of the PRC (Revised in 2008) promulgated by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, and its Implementation Rules (Revised in 2010) promulgated by the State Council, the National Intellectual Property Administration of China is responsible for administering patent affairs in the PRC. The patent administration departments of provincial or autonomous regions or municipal governments are responsible for administering patent affairs within their respective jurisdictions. The Patent Law of the PRC and its implementation rules provide for three types of patents, “invention”, “utility model” and “design.” The Chinese patent system adopts a first-to-file rule, which means that where more than one person files a patent application for the same invention, the patent will be granted to the person who files the application first. To be patentable, invention or utility models must meet three criteria: novelty, inventiveness and practicability.
The Patent Law of the PRC was further amended by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in October, 2020 and will come into effect on June 1, 2021, pursuant to which invention patents are valid for twenty years, while design patents are valid for fifteen years and utility model patents are valid for ten years, commencing from the date of application. Where a patent right for invention is granted after three years from the date of request for substantial examination of a patent for invention and after four years from the filing date, the patent administrative department under the State Council shall grant compensation for the duration of the patent right due to any unreasonable delay in grant of patent rights at the request of the applicant, except for any unreasonable delay caused by the applicant. In addition, the Law of the Patent PRC (Revised in 2020) provides criterial for compensation amount for intentional patent infringement, i.e. one to five times of actual loss suffered by the rights holder due to the infringement or the gains obtained by the infringer from the infringement, and the extension of the limitation of action for patent infringement to three years.
According to the Trademark Law of the PRC promulgated by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in August 1982 and recently amended in April 2019, and its Implementation Regulation promulgated in August 2002 and amended in April 2014 by the State Council, the period of validity for a registered trademark is ten years, commencing from the date of registration. The registrant must go through the formalities for renewal within twelve months prior to the expiry date of the trademark if continued use is intended. Where the registrant fails to do so, a grace period of six months may be granted. The validity period for each renewal of registration is ten years, commencing from the day immediately after the expiry of the preceding period of validity for the trademark. In the absence of a renewal upon expiry, the registered trademark will be cancelled. The Trademark Law and its Implementation Regulation also stipulate rules regarding trademark infringement and compensation. Industrial and commercial administrative authorities have the authority to investigate any alleged infringement of the exclusive right under a registered trademark. If there is a suspected criminal offense, the case shall be timely referred to and decided by a judicial authority.
The Standing Committee of National People’s Congress adopted the Copyright Law of the PRC in 1990 and amended it in 2001, 2010 and 2020, respectively. The latest amended Copyright Law will take effect on June 1, 2021. The amended Copyright Law extends copyright protection to internet activities, products disseminated over the internet and software products.
In order to further implement the Copyright Law of the PRC, the Regulations of the PRC for the Implementation of Copyright Law was promulgated by the State Council on September 15, 2002 and last amended on January 30, 2013.
Pursuant to the Copyright Law and its implementation rules, creators of protected works enjoy personal and property rights, including, among others, the right of disseminating the works through information networks. In addition, the Regulations for the Protection of Information Network Transmission Right promulgated by the State Council on May 18, 2006, and amended on January 30, 2013, specify the rules on a safe harbor for use of copyrights and copyright management technology.
In order to further implement the Regulations for the Protection of Computer Software promulgated by the State Council on December 20, 2001 and last amended on January 30, 2013, the State Copyright Bureau issued the Registration of Computer Software Copyright Procedures on February 20, 2002, which applies to software copyright registration, license contract registration and transfer contract registration.
Domain names are protected under the Administrative Measures on the Internet Domain Names promulgated by the MIIT on August 24, 2017. The MIIT is the major regulatory body responsible for the administration of the PRC internet domain names. The registration of domain names adopts a first-to-file rule. On November 27, 2017, the MIIT promulgated the Notice of the MIIT on Regulating the Use of Domain Names in Providing Internet-based Information Services, which became effective on January 1, 2018. Pursuant to the notice, the domain name used by an internet-based information service provider in providing internet-based information services must be registered and owned by such provider in accordance with the law. If the internet-based information service provider is an entity, the domain name registrant must be the entity (or any of the entity’s shareholders), or the entity’s principal or senior manager.
C. Organizational Structure
Our organizational structure is set forth above under Item 4.B. “Business Overview—Our Organizational Structure.”
D. Property, Plants and Equipment
Our principal executive offices are currently located at NetEase Building, No. 599 Wangshang Road, Binjiang District, Hangzhou, People’s Republic of China 310052. In addition, as of December 31, 2020, we have leased office, warehouse and store facilities with an aggregate of approximately 452,474 square meters of space at properties mainly in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hangzhou.
We own and occupy several research and development centers in Hangzhou and Guangzhou, China with a total floor area of approximately 304,000 and 75,000 square meters, respectively, where our online game and innovative businesses and other services developers, as well as their related sales, marketing, technology, management and administrative functions are located. We also own and occupy an office building in Beijing with an aggregate total estimated floor area of 95,000 square meters, where our advertising services and Youdao are located.
We are in the process of constructing several new office buildings and warehouses, primarily located in Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. As of December 31, 2020, we had incurred construction in progress costs of RMB784.4 million (US$120.2 million) for these new office buildings and warehouses, which primarily comprise costs for building construction.
We continue to assess our needs with respect to office space and may, in the future, vacate or add additional facilities. We believe that our current facilities and those under construction will be adequate for our needs in the immediate and foreseeable future.
As of December 31, 2020, we owned approximately 112,000 network servers co-located mainly in the facilities of China Telecom’s affiliates, China Unicom’s affiliates and China Mobile’s affiliates for which we paid server and bandwidth service fees, and we leased dedicated lines mainly from various affiliates of China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile pursuant to short term contracts. Our server and bandwidth service fees were approximately RMB1,424.2 million (US$218.3 million) for the year ended December 31, 2020.
Item 4A. Unresolved Staff Comments
Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects
The following discussion of our financial condition and results of operations is based upon and should be read in conjunction with our consolidated financial statements and their related notes included in this annual report. This report contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, or the Securities Act, and Section 21E of the Exchange Act, including, without limitation, statements regarding our expectations, beliefs, intentions or future strategies that are signified by the words “expect,” “anticipate,” “intend,” “believe,” or similar language. All forward-looking statements included in this annual report are based on information available to us on the date hereof, and we assume no obligation to update any such forward-looking statements. In evaluating our business, you should carefully consider the information provided under Item 3.D. “Risk Factors.” Actual results could differ materially from those projected in the forward-looking statements. We caution you that our businesses and financial performance are subject to substantial risks and uncertainties.
A. OPERATING RESULTS
We have a successful online game business, developing and operating a rich portfolio of highly popular titles. Leveraging on our user insights and execution expertise, we have also incubated and developed in-house a pipeline of successful businesses, including our intelligent learning platform, Youdao, and other innovative businesses, ranging from music streaming and private label e-commerce to internet media and e-mail services, among others.
We generated net revenues of RMB51,178.6 million, RMB59,241.1 million and RMB73,667.1 million (US$11,290.0 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. Our net income from continuing operations was RMB8,616.1 million, RMB13,468.6 million and RMB12,330.2 million (US$1,889.7 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Our Corporate Structure
Our company was incorporated in the Cayman Islands. NetEase, Inc. conducts its business in China through its subsidiaries and VIEs. Under current Chinese regulations, there are restrictions and prohibitions on foreign investment in Chinese companies providing, among other things, value-added telecommunications services, internet cultural services and internet publication services, which include the provision of online game, online education and other internet content and services. In addition, the operation by foreign or foreign-invested companies of advertising businesses in China is subject to government approval. In order to comply with these restrictions and other Chinese rules and regulations, NetEase, Inc. and certain of its subsidiaries have entered into a series of contractual arrangements for the provision of such services with certain affiliated companies, including Guangzhou NetEase, Hangzhou Leihuo, Youdao Computer, Shanghai EaseNet and certain other affiliated companies. These affiliated companies are considered “variable interest entities” for accounting purposes, and are referred to collectively in this annual report as “VIEs.” These contractual arrangements allow us to exercise effective control over the VIEs and their subsidiaries. The VIEs hold ICP licenses and other regulated licenses in which foreign investment is restricted or prohibited and operate our Internet businesses and other businesses. The revenue earned by the VIEs largely flows through to NetEase, Inc. and its subsidiaries pursuant to such contractual arrangements. Based on these agreements, NetEase Hangzhou, Boguan and certain other affiliated companies provide technical consulting and related services to the VIEs. In addition, Guangzhou NetEase has a wholly-owned subsidiary, Wangyibao (the operator of our NetEase Pay online payment platform). Please also see Item 4.B. “Business Overview—Our Organizational Structure.”
As of December 31, 2020, the total assets of all the consolidated VIEs of our company were RMB18.2 billion (US$2.8 billion), mainly comprising cash and cash equivalents, time deposits, accounts receivable, prepayments and other current assets, net and fixed assets. As of December 31, 2020, the total liabilities of the consolidated VIEs were RMB15.5 billion (US$2.4 billion), mainly comprising accounts payable, deferred revenue, accrued liabilities and other payables.
We believe that our present operations are structured to comply with the relevant Chinese laws. However, many Chinese regulations are subject to extensive interpretive powers of governmental agencies and commissions. We cannot be certain that the Chinese government will not take action to prohibit or restrict our business activities. Future changes in Chinese government policies affecting the provision of information services, including the provision of online games, online education, internet access, online advertising and online payment services, may impose additional regulatory requirements on us or our service providers or otherwise harm our business. Please see Item 3.D. “Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure.”
Factors Affecting Our Results of Operations
Our ability to continue to deliver original and compelling content and service offerings and effectively operate our existing products
We take pride in being an original content provider. Our continued success in producing and delivering original and compelling content and services to our users largely depends on our ability to stay abreast of users’ evolving needs and preferences and dynamics in the digital content and service industries. We seek to identify trend-setting content and services while striving to maintain the longevity and vitality of our existing products by effectively leveraging our rich operational know-how. In particular, as we generate a substantial amount of revenues from our online game services, our ability to successfully update and expand our existing game franchises and maintain a pipeline of new games across diversified genres and geographic regions will affect our future revenue and financial results.
Our ability to grow our user base and drive user engagement and loyalty
We have built a massive and highly engaged user base across our business segments. We generate a substantial part of our revenues through sales of in-game virtual items and play time, merchandise sales, music streaming, advertising services and tuition fees for online courses. Our ability to generate these revenues is affected by the size of our user base and the level of their engagement. Our ability to continue to grow our user base and engagement is driven by various factors, including our ability to offer diverse, attractive and relevant content and services, deliver differentiated and superior user experiences, improve the community features on our platforms and enhance our brand reputation.
Our ability to continue to develop proprietary technologies and apply them meaningfully
We have demonstrated capabilities in developing proprietary technologies and applying technology to enhance our products and services and improve our user experience, which is a critical competitive advantage of ours and a key factor that affects our operations and financial results. We have successfully developed industry-leading proprietary game, AI, big data and other technologies and integrate these technologies into our products and services, and we will continue to significantly invest in developing and upgrading our technology with a focus on optimizing our products and services and delivering a superior and differentiated user experience.
Our ability to manage our costs and expenses effectively across all business segments
Our results of operations are affected by our ability to effectively control our costs and expenses across all of our business segments. We incur revenue sharing costs, including fees shared with distribution channel providers, game developers and other third parties related to mobile games, course instructors related to Youdao’s services and others in connection with our other innovative businesses, which may increase in absolute amounts in the near term as we continue to scale up our operations across our business segments. We may also incur higher content costs in the near term as we continue to expand our product and service offerings to cater to the evolving user needs. Our ability to continue to manage and control our cost of revenues, including revenue sharing costs and content costs, while maintaining the high-quality and attractiveness of our products and services will have a significant impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We have incurred substantial R&D expenses as we developed more products and improved our content offerings and technologies to deliver high quality services and value to our users. We strongly believe that R&D must be guided by the principles of commercial viability and applicability, and we plan to continue making purpose-driven investment in technologies. We have also been able to maintain our sales and marketing expenses as a relatively low percentage of our net revenues due to our strong brand reputation. Our ability to sell and market our products and services cost-effectively depends on our ability to continue to leverage our existing brand value, grow and monetize our user bases, and improve our sales and marketing efficiency.
Our ability to make successful strategic investments and acquisitions
We have made, and intend to make, strategic investments and acquisitions. Our investment and acquisition strategy is focused on strengthening our