The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) wants to crack down on algorithm governance to protect citizen rights, create a fair business environment, and not wrongfully sway public opinion. On September 30, the CAC announced, “a multi-dimensional regulatory system will be established to monitor algorithm safety risks, archival administration, and illegal behavior,” while at the same time saying, “the autonomous and controllable capability of algorithms and intellectual property protection should be promoted.”
Over the next three years, the CAC will work with eight other departments to develop governance rules for algorithms.
The Power Of Algorithms
The announcement comes a month after China drafted new rules for managing algorithms which, according to the Global Times, “required algorithm service providers not to use algorithms to block information, manipulate ranking lists or search results, control searches or selection, forge likes and comments, or hijack online traffic.”
From social media applications like Facebook, to search engines like Google, to e-commerce websites, to marketing companies like Mailchimp, algorithms play a core role in tailoring solicited or unsolicited messaging to internet users. China wants to make it so users can switch off algorithm plug-ins to prevent companies from breaching personal privacy.
China isn’t alone in this fight. The United States has gone back and forth with Facebook and Google for years, threatening anti-trust preventions and regulation. In December 2020, the European Union threated big team firms with up to a 6% fine if they did not directly address the unchecked spread of illegal content.
Fissures And Frays
China’s crack downs have been the single biggest headline story of the second half of 2021. Whether its regulating Alibaba and Tencent or letting property developers like Evergrande fall on their own sword of debt, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is showing it can purposely wipe trillions of dollars in value away from its own companies.
The CCP is fighting top tech companies in the spirit of breaking up monopolies, protecting personal information, and reducing anti-competitive practices. Yet, the offensive seems to derive from a desire to keep power in the hands of the government, not publicly owned corporations. The suspect disappearance of Alibaba founder and CEO, Jack Ma, in October 2020 (only to resurface months later) may have been the canary in the coal mine. Since then, China has only tightened its grip on power.
Recent examples include the blocking of the highly anticipated initial public offering (IPO) of Ant Group, which Alibaba has a stake in. Earlier this summer, the CNP had a role in temporarily preventing Tencent from registering new users. China is showing what an economically capitalist but politically communist regime can do to a “free market” — instill fear at the expense of its own economy.