Alibaba, ByteDance share top secret algorithms to Chinese government for first time

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From Tencent Holdings Ltd. to ByteDance Ltd., China’s internet behemoths have revealed details of their treasured algorithms to Beijing for the first time, an extraordinary move aimed at curtailing data misuse that may jeopardise highly guarded company secrets.

The internet watchdog issued a report on Friday listing 30 algorithms used by companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Meituan to collect data on users, make personal recommendations, and offer up content. While the public list did not expose the actual code, it remained unclear how much information internet companies may have supplied to authorities in private.

Many online businesses believe the algorithms that determine which TikTok videos, WeChat posts, and Instagram photographs users see to be the secret sauce, important in catching user attention and driving development. 

China implemented legislation in March requiring internet businesses to disclose such tools, in an effort to address complaints about data exploitation while also assisting regulators in keeping internet corporations on a leash.

Algorithms in the IT sector are carefully guarded and have been at the centre of political issues all around the world. 

That disclosure requirement distinguishes China from countries such as the United States, where companies such as Meta Platforms Inc. and Alphabet Inc. have successfully argued that algorithms are trade secrets, even as lawmakers and activists seek to better understand how they curate content and manage data.

The Chinese Cyberspace Administration now demands just basic information from corporations, but it may seek additional specifics to investigate complaints of data abuses, according to Zhai. According to Ding Mengdan, a lawyer at Beijing Yingke law firm’s Hangzhou branch, the publication of the list indicates that the implementation process is proceeding successfully.

China has tightened laws to limit the once-unchecked growth of the country’s digital behemoths. Last year, the government passed the Personal Information Protection Law and the Data Security Law, which established stricter guidelines for how businesses manage user data.

The list of algorithms available for public review is limited to brief descriptions of how they work as well as the products and use cases to which they apply. ByteDance, for example, claims that their algorithm uses a user’s likes and dislikes to promote content on applications such as Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese cousin. According to Meituan, its algorithms assist in dispatching food orders to riders in the most effective manner depending on their downtime and delivery route.

According to the laws, companies must also give non-public information to the CAC, including a self-assessment of the algorithms’ security, the data they gather, if any sensitive biometric or identity information is included, and what data sources are utilised to train algorithms.

(With inputs from agencies) 



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