Chinese tech giants are sharing details of their algorithms with regulators

China has introduced rules designed to regulate how technology platforms use recommendation algorithms. It is part of a broader push by Beijing to regulate China’s domestic tech sector more tightly.

Thomas White | Reuters

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

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

It comes after China enacted legislation in March governing the way tech companies use recommendation algorithms. Rules include that users can opt out of recommendation algorithms and that companies must purchase a license to provide intelligence services.

Algorithms are the secret behind the success of many Chinese tech 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 regulation of China’s tech sector in areas from privacy to antitrust to rein in the power of the country’s behemoths, which have grown largely unencumbered in a few years.

The March law also requires companies to submit algorithm details to the Cyberspace Regulatory Authority.

Details are thin in the public filing. For example, the algorithm developed by ByteDance for Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, is used to recommend graphics, videos, products and services that might be of interest to users through behavioral data such as clicks and likes, according to the CAC filing.

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

While the CAC’s public filing keeps things short, it’s unclear how much insight the regulator had into the inner workings behind 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 European Union have yet to introduce anything like the law in China, although European lawmakers are currently debating rules on the use of artificial intelligence. Chinese tech giants are sharing details of their algorithms with regulators

Joshua Buckhalter

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