China plans to inspect tech companies for possible algorithm abuse

  • China’s internet regulator is cracking down on potential harm from tech companies’ algorithms.
  • He wants to send officials to inspect tech companies in person.
  • China has acted to rein in its most powerful tech companies over the past two years.

China has attacked what it describes as possible algorithm abuse by its internet giants and plans to send government officials to carry out inspections in person.

The Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s state-controlled internet regulator, said in a statement on Friday that it would target “large-scale websites, platforms and products with great influence.” , but did not call any specific company.

We first saw the news via Bloomberg.

The regulator wants Chinese tech companies to submit their algorithms for review to avoid “abuse” and “misinformation”, according to a Google Translate translation of its statement. If officials decide that a company’s algorithms are somehow flawed or illegal, companies face unspecified penalties.

Most tech companies that offer content recommendations — whether it’s Google’s search engine, Facebook’s News Feed, or TikTok’s For You page — rely on algorithms to display results.

This latest announcement from the Chinese regulator aims to bring its biggest tech companies in line with its algorithmic management rules, rolled out earlier this year. These, according to Stanford’s DigiChina Project, prohibit algorithmically generated fake news or the use of algorithms to cement a monopoly. They also aim to curb online addiction, disrupt social unrest or harm China’s national security, Bloomberg reported.

The algorithmic intervention is China’s latest attempt to rein in the growing power of its major tech companies, which include online retail giant JD.com, parent company TikTok ByteDance and payment conglomerate and of Alibaba Commerce. Thanks to the huge popularity of their apps and sites, and China’s growing connectivity, these companies have turned their respective founders into billionaires.

But China is keen to retain central control of its internet, targeting how these companies collect data; where and how they can list; and, apparently indirectly, by lobbying their ultra-wealthy founder-CEOs. JD.com founder Richard Liu, ByteDance co-founder Zhang Yiming, and Su Hua, founder of TikTok’s main rival Kuaishou, all left their senior positions at their respective companies in the past two years.

The internet regulator said it has questioned representatives of major companies including JD.com, Tencent, Alibaba and others about recent sweeping job cuts, Bloomberg also reported.

China isn’t the only country concerned about tech companies’ algorithms, a flashpoint for lawmakers concerned about everything from online child sexual abuse to free speech on social media.

The UK introduced its Online Harms Bill this month, a far-reaching bill that targets how algorithms deliver illegal or harmful content. The proposed law mentions the word algorithm at least 11 times.

And U.S. lawmakers in February introduced a bipartisan bill, the Social Media NUDGE Act, to force companies to slow the sharing of misinformation through algorithms.

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