China's technology sector was hit with another round of regulatory crackdowns by Beijing on Friday. The country's internet watchdog wants to rein in potential "abuse of algorithms" by internet giants that dish out ads and content to users that can significantly influence their thinking.
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) will "conduct in-depth investigation and rectification of Internet enterprise platform algorithm security problems, evaluate algorithm security capabilities, and focus on inspecting large-scale enterprises with strong public opinion attributes or social mobilization capabilities." CAC made no mention of which internet companies it would target.
CAC expects to examine the industry's use of algorithms through the end of the year. The move is part of a much larger campaign to curtail the widening power big tech companies have in influencing people.
Regulators published a draft on restrictions for content algorithms back in August. According to the final version released in early January, the rules forbid practices that encourage addiction or high consumption and any activities that endanger national security. We noted at the time:
According to the Internet Information Service Algorithm Recommendation Management Regulations: "In recent years, algorithm applications have injected new momentum into political, economic, and social development. At the same time, problems caused by algorithm discrimination, 'big data killing,' and inducing indulgence in the unreasonable application of algorithms have also profoundly affected the normal communication order and market order."
Algorithms like the TikTok algorithm create problems like social order poses challenges to safeguarding ideological security, social fairness and justice, and the legitimate rights and interests of netizens. The introduction of targeted algorithm recommendation rules and regulations in the field of Internet information services is a need to prevent and resolve security risks, and it is also a need to promote the healthy development of algorithm recommendation services and improve the level of supervision capabilities.
In February, CAC told algorithm providers who influence public opinion or mobilize the masses to submit their services for record-keeping.
Tech industry algorithms have been at the center of many political controversies in the US. Facebook, Twitter, and Google have been ridiculed for using algos to flood news stories in people's feeds with content that influences elections or exacerbates political polarization. Recently, Facebook and Instagram allowed calling for violence against 'Russians and Russian soldiers' when discussing the Ukraine invasion.
ByteDance and Tencent are two companies that will likely come under scrutiny because of their massive Chinese social media sector dominance.
Read the full statement from the Cyberspace Administration of China below (translation courtesy of Google) here.