In a surprise, nearly 70 percent of shoppers in a Fukuoka town agreed to provide their names, addresses, purchase histories and other personal information for the government's first experiment with electronic receipts, it has been learned. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which conducted the trial in March, said the rate was unexpectedly high, although it believes that was partly because they were offered rewards for their participation and also knew it was a state-run trial, informed sources said. The ministry is conducting a detailed analysis of the data. About 600 people participated in the smartphone-based e-receipt trial at a discount store in the town of Shingu, Fukuoka Prefecture. They were given 500 to 1,000 shopping points in exchange for their personal data, with each point worth ¥1.
The government will step up support for companies developing caregiver robots with an eye on improving productivity in the field of elderly nursing care amid widespread labor shortages. In its budget request for fiscal 2019, which begins next April, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plans to request that funds for such support be increased by about 20 percent from the previous year's ¥1.1 billion, informed sources said. The use of robots for providing help going to the toilet, walking and other assistance is expected to alleviate the physical burdens of care workers considerably and contribute to an easing of labor shortages in the industry. Furthermore, the ministry aims to help drastically reduce their work logging care recipients' health data, including blood pressure levels, by creating robots that automatically collect such data as they assist those in care. An administrative work assistance system that automatically stores such data so it is better used in care services is also envisioned.
The number of small and midsize businesses registered for a cashless payment program, introduced by the government to reduce the negative effects of a hike in the consumption tax last October, topped 1 million in mid-February. The nine-month program set to run through June appears to have been widely accepted in society, with the number of businesses registered doubling, from around 500,000 at the time of the tax increase, within four and a half months, an official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said. Along with the tax rate increase, from 8 percent to 10 percent, the government introduced the program to refund up to 5 percent of payments for goods and services purchased from small and midsize businesses, such as retailers and restaurants, if the purchases were made using cashless payment methods such as credit cards and QR codes on smartphones. The refund is made in the form of points that are accumulated and used later for other purchases. The program was aimed at preventing a drop in consumer spending following the tax hike and stimulating consumption to raise the share of cashless payments in Japan, which is lower than other Asian countries such as China and South Korea.
When Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress last spring, he argued that regulating Facebook's use of personal data would cause the United States to fall behind Chinese companies when it comes data-intensive innovation like artificial intelligence. The implication was that Chinese companies are not constrained by privacy norms and will have an edge if U.S. companies like Facebook are hamstrung by data protection regulation. But China may not provide Zuckerberg with a convenient counterargument against privacy rules for much longer. Contrary to Zuckerberg's characterization, China is in the early stages of setting up a data protection regulatory system to police Facebook's Chinese counterparts. Chinese companies are increasingly finding that the days of collecting data without public scrutiny are over--and Chinese consumers are vocally standing up for their own privacy in ways not seen before.