Beijing is forcing tech giants to disclose their algorithms

(Beijing) Chinese digital giants, including Tencent, Alibaba and ByteDance, have turned over details of their algorithms to authorities, an unprecedented move in the context of a Beijing takeover of the sector, the regulator said.

Posted at 7:04 am

At the heart of the digital economy, algorithms serve as the brains of many applications and services on the internet and are generally a well-kept secret of digital giants.

These tools make it possible to analyze the amount of information collected on a user and provide them with automatic recommendations based on their habits or preferences.

Concerned about the digital giants’ lack of transparency regarding these practices, the authorities are trying to further regulate the algorithms.

According to a March regulation, companies must check the conformity of their algorithms with the regulatory authority and provide technical details.

On Friday, China’s Cyberspace Administration released for the first time a list detailing how tech giants are using algorithms.

E-commerce champion Alibaba, for example, recommends new products based on its users’ browsing and search history.

Short video app Douyin (Chinese version of TikTok) makes suggestions based on the time its users spent on past content.

“At this point, the authorities have not specifically asked companies to change their algorithms,” Angela Zhang, a Chinese law specialist at the University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

“Regulators are more in the information-gathering phase,” notes Mme Zhang.

Chinese authorities have been particularly harsh on the tech sector for nearly two years, for practices that were previously tolerated and widespread.

Several industry giants have been singled out, particularly in relation to personal data, competition and user rights.

Last month, Didi, China’s leading chauffeur-driven reservations (VTC) provider, was fined around €1.2 billion for personal data breaches.

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