Chinese tech giants share details of their algorithms with regulators

China has introduced rules governing how technology platforms use recommendation algorithms. It is part of Beijing’s wider drive to more closely regulate China’s domestic technology sector.

Thomas White | Reuters

Chinese tech giants shared details of their prized algorithms with the country’s regulators in an unprecedented move as Beijing looks to increase oversight of its domestic internet sector.

China’s Cyberspace Administration, one of the country’s most powerful regulators, released a list of 30 algorithms on Friday, along with a brief description of their target from companies including e-commerce company Alibaba and gaming giant Tencent.

It comes after China passed a law in March that regulates how tech companies use recommendation algorithms. The rules include that users can opt out of recommendation algorithms and that companies must obtain a license to provide news services.

Algorithms are the secret sauce behind the success of many Chinese technology companies. They can be used to target users with products or videos based on information about that customer.

But over the past nearly two years, Beijing has tightened regulations for China’s tech sector in areas from data protection to antitrust, in an effort to rein in the power of the country’s giants, which have grown largely unencumbered over the course of a few years. to keep.

The March law also requires companies to submit details of the algorithms to the cyberspace regulator.

Details are thin in the public submission. For example, ByteDance’s algorithm for Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, is used to recommend images, videos, products and services that may be of interest to users through behavioral data such as clicks and likes, according to the CAC- application.

The algorithm for Taobao, Alibaba’s Chinese marketplace, is used for content recommendations on the homepage and other parts of the app via a user’s historical search data, the submission said.

While the CAC’s public filing keeps things brief, it’s unclear how much insight the regulator had into the inner workings behind the tech companies’ algorithms.

CNBC has reached out to Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, ByteDance and Netease for comment.

China’s move to create an algorithm registration system is unprecedented. The US and the European Union have yet to enact something like the law in China, although European lawmakers are currently debating rules around the use of artificial intelligence.

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