Alibaba, ByteDance share algorithm information with Chinese regulator

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Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance have provided information to the state regulator on algorithms used in their products. This is an unprecedented move to increase surveillance of the sector.

Beijing, China: Chinese tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance have given details to the state regulator on algorithms used in their products. This is an unprecedented move by authorities to intensify oversight of the industry.

The nation’s Internet watchdog has released a list of 30 algorithms companies make use of to gather data on users and to promote services or content.

Technologies utilized in the tech industry are secured across the globe, however in March China introduced regulations that require companies to reveal these tools as fears mount about the misuse of data.

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Beijing has recently implemented a wide-ranging crackdown on the tech industry that saw decades of exponential growth and the rise of supersized monopolies, before regulators took over.

The March regulations will require businesses to ensure that they do not take part in actions that could affect the security of the nation, social stability or promote excessive consumption, according to Angela Zhang, associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong.

“It obliges the service providers to perform regular self-assessments for compliance and to submit their information to the appropriate authorities,” she told AFP.

The regulations that are in force today vary from China’s twitter-like platform Weibo to delivery services Meituan and ByteDance’s quick video application Douyin.

The March regulations state that the rules are applicable to domestic service providers. This means that Douyin’s international ally TikTok which is based outside China does not need to share data.

The list that was released this Friday by Cyberspace Administration of China briefly describes the algorithm’s working and what products they can be employed for.

Alibaba’s e-commerce platform is a huge hit. Taobao is an example. It includes an algorithm that suggests products based on user browsing habits and search histories and Douyin provides recommendations based upon aspects like the length of time a user spends with the content.

Cyberspace authorities work in conjunction with the public security and market supervision departments to conduct security checks of the algorithms utilized for recommendations and can seek corrections.

The rules also stipulate that service providers aren’t allowed to employ algorithms to promote the use of drugs among minors or set price of transactions based upon the behavior of their customers.

The offender could be warned and fined or slapped with other sanctions.

The degree to which tech companies have made public the software they use to regulatory authorities is in doubt.

“At this moment, it’s not clear that Chinese regulators have put forth explicit demands for the tech companies to modify their algorithm. Instead, they are likely to be at the information gathering stage,” Zhang said.

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