China to set up rules for algorithm governance

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China has launched a three-year program to set up governance rules and systems for algorithms widely used by technology companies amid a broader cleanup of its internet.

Government agencies led by the Cyberspace Administration of China have required local watchdogs to make sure that algorithms developed and used by tech firms should uphold core socialist values, promote “positive energy” and guide public opinion in line with Beijing’s political agenda, according to new guidelines published on Wednesday.

Seen as the secret sauce of many Chinese tech companies, algorithms power customized recommendations on e-commerce and social media platforms, including Alibaba Group Holding’s Taobao and ByteDance Ltd.’s Douyin. They also support a wide range of gig-economy businesses from food delivery to ride-hailing services. Beijing started restricting the export of such algorithm technologies last year when ByteDance was in talks to sell TikTok’s U.S. operations.

The regulators pledged to monitor more closely the use of algorithms and the impact they have on internet communication and netizen behavior, in order to better identify the potential ideological and social risks that algorithms could pose.

To increase transparency, tech companies could be required to report the algorithms they develop and use under a to-be-established system for algorithm registration and categorization, the guidelines said.

Internet firms shouldn’t abuse algorithms to squash rivals and are encouraged to hire more professionals in algorithm governance, the regulators said.

In August, China’s ideology watchdogs called for controlling the use of big data and recommendation algorithms for culture and art reviews. The CAC later also proposed draft rules limiting the use of algorithms by tech companies to attract users and requiring them to give users the options to turn off algorithm recommendation services.

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