Beijing: Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance have submitted details of the algorithms used in some of their products to national regulators in an unprecedented move as authorities step up scrutiny of the sector. On Friday, the country’s Internet watchdog released a list of 30 algorithms companies use to collect information about users and promote their content and services.

Algorithms used by tech companies are heavily protected globally, but China rolled out regulations in March requiring companies to disclose these tools amid growing concerns over misuse of data. In recent years, Beijing has embarked on a broad crackdown on the tech sector, which experienced years of runaway growth and the emergence of super-large monopolies before regulators stepped in.

The rules, issued in March, require businesses to refrain from engaging in activities that could threaten national security or social stability, or that could encourage excessive luxuries. said Angela Zhang, associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong. “These service providers must conduct regular self-assessments to ensure compliance and submit records to relevant authorities,” she told AFP. The latest restrictions range from her Twitter-like platform Weibo in China to streaming service Meituan and her ByteDance short-form video app Douyin.

The March regulation says the rule applies to domestic service providers. In other words, Douyin’s international cousin TikTok, which operates outside of China, does not need to share information.

A list released by China’s Cyberspace Administration on Friday briefly explains how the algorithms work and which products they are used for. For example, Taobao, Alibaba’s popular e-commerce platform, has an algorithm that recommends products based on a user’s browsing and search history.

Cyberspace authorities may work with public safety and market oversight departments to conduct security assessments of algorithms used in recommendation services and may require modifications. The regulations also state that service providers must not use algorithms to facilitate the addiction of minors or determine transaction prices based on user habits. Violators may be subject to warnings, fines or other penalties.

It remains unclear to what extent technology companies disclose their software to regulators. “At the moment, it doesn’t look like China’s data regulators are explicitly asking these tech companies to change their algorithms. Zhang said. – AFP

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