China compels the sector’s biggest groups to provide their data.
Big Chinese tech companies have been making fortunes for years on their algorithms. These softwares, which for example allow creating a hyper-personalized feed on TikTok, usually do a very opaque job. Beijing has forced the sector’s biggest groups to reveal their most valuable secrets, as the Cyberspace Administration of China, one of the country’s regulators, announced on Friday.
About thirty companies are concerned, including e-commerce giant Alibaba, entertainment group Tencent or ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok. It is not lightly that these companies reveal their secret recipes. They are forced to do so. In March, China passed a law regulating how companies use recommendation algorithms. They now have to be analyzed and then approved by the regulator. The user must be free to accept or reject these recommendations.
Proliferation of regulations
If companies have to be transparent with Beijing, the government does not apply the same restrictions. Very little information about this software has been made public. The only things declassified about Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese twin, are the algorithms used to recommend products and services that users might be interested in. Interest is determined through behavioral data such as clicks and likes. The document published by the regulator does not make it possible to determine whether it knows much more about the operation of the equipment.
China has been trying to regain control of powerful technology companies for two years. It multiplies regulations on both the protection of personal data – adopting a GDPR a year ago – and anti-competitive practices. This decision to frame the algorithm is a new turn of the screw. The regulator is also ahead of its European counterparts, which are often very concerned about consumer protection.