Tech giants bow to China’s algorithm demand, says BBC

Aug 17, 2022 at 09:16 pm by admin

Chinese tech and e-commerce giants including SCMP owner Alibaba are handing algorithm data to a state regulator, according to a report by UK broadcaster the BBC.

Business reporter Annabelle Liang said companies had supplied details of their algorithms to the Cyberspace Administration of China. Descriptions of 30 algorithms have been published, with plans to update the list regularly “to curb data abuse”.

Liang names Alibaba – which owns the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong (pictured) – Tiktok-owner ByteDance and Tencent among companies which have shared details of their algorithms.

Among the listed algorithms is one belonging to e-commerce website Taobao – owned by Alibaba – which “recommends products or services to users through their digital footprint and historical search data”. ByteDance's algorithm for Douyin, China's version of TikTok, is said to gauge user interests through what they click, comment on, ‘like’ or 'dislike’, the report says.

However Liang quotes Trivium China head of tech policy research Kendra Schaefer that the data appeared to be only “surface level”.

“It doesn't look like the algorithms themselves have been submitted,” she told the BBC.

That is questioned by Zhai Wei, an executive director at the Competition Law Research Center at the East China University of Political Science and Law, who told the BBC the information provided was probably “much more detailed than what was published”.

The BBC’s Asia business correspondent Suranjana Tewari said the move was ultimately about control.

China was concerned about how these platforms could influence public opinion”, and prefers to have more oversight over their technology and data. It wants to redirect people's attention to content that the state thinks is fit for public consumption”.

Service providers are urged to ensure algorithms “actively spread positive energy”, and are not used to encourage indulgences, excessive spending and exposure to celebrity culture.

New rules for algorithms were adopted in March, with a requirement that algorithms with “public opinion properties or social mobilisation capabilities” register with the CAC.

What is remarkable, according to Kendra Schaefer, is that the registrations were made public. “I'm not aware of any other country in the world where you can go see a list of all of the pieces of code that are essentially informing the decisions that you make, the purchasing decisions that you make, the content viewing decisions that you make,” she said.

Sections: Digital business


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