China Leaps Ahead in Effort to Rein In Algorithms

Beijing is building a system to ensure that the automated processes of Internet platforms are fair, transparent and in line with the ideology of the Communist Party

Regulators called for the algorithms to be fair and transparent, following the ideology of the Communist Party of China.

The campaign puts China one step ahead in policing tech forums, as governments around the world grapple with how to respond to automated technologies that reshape business, social interactions and politics.

Earlier this year, the European Union proposed restricting certain uses of artificial intelligence to reduce potential harm. In the US, lawmakers are investigating Facebook’s influence Inc. NS

Algorithm-driven content on users, after Businesshala reported that the company’s Instagram app has a negative impact on children’s mental health.

China has targeted algorithms more aggressively under the close watch of its domestic tech sector. Draft guidelines released this summer would require algorithms to protect the rights of workers and consumers, and restrict the use of algorithms to manipulate user accounts, online traffic or search results.

“We don’t necessarily see China as a regulatory innovator, but in this case they are,” said Rogier Creamers, an assistant professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands, which focuses on Chinese technical policy.

Under a three-year plan released last week, Chinese regulators outlined steps to monitor algorithms, including a registration process and the establishment of a technical team to evaluate the mechanisms and risks of an algorithm.

The latest campaign builds on a broad regulatory push in China’s tech sector that has prompted investigations into some of the country’s biggest companies, including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding. Ltd.

The push is partly directed at business practices that regulators deem harmful so workers or consumers.

Companies such as Meituan and Didi have faced heat over the working conditions of drivers, as well as calls for creating algorithms that schedule workers’ tasks and pay more transparently. Officials have also warned tech companies this year against exploiting personal data and using algorithms to charge discriminatory prices from customers.

China’s Cyberspace Administration, Alibaba and Didi did not respond to requests for comment. China is currently celebrating its National Day holiday.

Meituan declined to comment. The company previously published an explanation of its delivery algorithm and said it is making changes to give delivery drivers more flexibility.

Experts said it would be a challenge for regulators to tighten controls on algorithms without hindering development or innovation in one of China’s most successful sectors. Internet companies rely on complex mathematical instructions for tasks ranging from analysis of social-media behavior to mapping optimal distribution routes.

While algorithms have contributed to technological advancement and societal development, the CAC said in last week’s announcement, they have also brought “challenges to ideological security, a fair and equal society, and the protection of the legal rights of Internet users.”

Beijing-based partner at law firm Bird & Bird, James Gong, said tighter regulatory oversight of algorithms is likely to impact China’s internet industry.

Mr. Gong said of the country’s Internet companies, “Almost all of them use algorithms and automated decision-making and profiling to ensure that their marketing is more accurate and to improve business efficiency and increase profits.” Is.”

A senior manager at ByteDance Ltd said the requirement to register the algorithm would only add a step, restricting the learning of user behavior and recommendation services, as well as requiring disclosure of proprietary technology that could hurt the company’s business. .

ByteDance, which owns social-media sensation TikTok and its Chinese sister app Douyin, is known for its powerful algorithms that drive user recommendations and content.

“The regulatory environment is clear, and we need to start thinking about how to adjust accordingly,” the ByteDance manager said. He said that since most of the new regulation is still under debate, it is difficult to say what the immediate commercial impact will be.

ByteDance did not respond to a request for comment.

Sam Sachs, senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center, said China’s approach could appeal to other countries that want a thriving digital economy while maintaining a firm grip on political and social discourse. However, she said there is still a lot of uncertainty over the details and enforcement of these new rules.

“I think they understand that this is an impossible task that they have set for themselves,” Ms Sachs said. “I would also say that three years can be ambitious.”

The CAC guidelines also state that algorithms used by Chinese companies must uphold core socialist values ​​and promote “positive energy” in content provided to users.

China is taking more control of online content and communities. In recent months, it has severely restricted online-videogame time for players under the age of 18, banned pop-idol rankings and criticized online male personalities for being too sacrilegious. are visible.

“It’s almost taking online censorship up a notch,” Ms Sachs said. “It is saying that you have an obligation to ensure that any content that is algorithmically driven that you feed into the online space is to shape socialist values.”

By: Stephanie Yang, Reporter, The Wall Street Journal

Source: China Leaps Ahead in Effort to Rein In Algorithms

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