Singapore: Health Sciences Authority trials bot to crack down on contraband products sold


In brief

The Singapore Health Sciences Authority (HSA) is trialling an e-commerce surveillance tool to crack down on contraband products sold online, including illegal drugs, health products and cosmetics.

The bot uses robotic process automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to trawl through online listings. It analyses information from the listings, including pictures, descriptions and profiles, to identify illegal products and listings that contain illegal or dangerous ingredients.

HSA began trialling the bot on 8 July 2021. It will be tested for a month before being fine-tuned and fully deployed.

The HSA has consistently demonstrated that it will not hesitate to take enforcement actions against those who engage in the import, manufacture or supply of illegal products under its purview. 

Earlier this year, we had reported that the HSA had removed more than 3,200 listings of illicit health products from local e-commerce platforms from January to May 2021: see Singapore: HSA removes over 3,200 listings of illegal health products from e-commerce platforms – Baker McKenzie InsightPlus. This was done through a semi-automated process where each listing had to be sifted through manually and analysed one at a time.

This new e-commerce surveillance tool will greatly enhance the HSA’s ability to serve as the “eyes and ears” of stakeholders in the healthcare space. More frequent and swifter action against persons who deal in illegal products should be expected. Unlike the traditional takedown process, which can be arduous and involve many hours spent sifting through online listings, the new bot can perform this task in a matter of hours instead of weeks. The deployment of this technology also means that contraband product listings can be identified more accurately and efficiently, which can lead to more large-scale enforcement efforts. 


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