The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), Beijing’s internet regulator, has just announced a list of 30 algorithms used by Alibaba, Tencent, ByteDance, and more, with a short description of how the code works and for which products they are used.
The release follows regulations rolled out in March, in which CAC requested algorithm information from some of the nation’s biggest technology companies to curb data abuse.
For the past two years, Beijing had embarked on a wide-range clampdown on the technology sector, which saw years of runaway growth and the emergence of supersized monopolies before regulators stepped in.
According to TheRegister, the list revealed internet search company Baidu has an algorithm that assesses the security risks posed by content posted on its news site, Encyclopedia, online forum Tieba, and other services.
Douyin—the app that ByteDance calls TikTok outside China—applied recommendations for graphics, videos, products, and services and recommends content based on behavioral data from clicks, durations, likes, comments, relays, and dislikes in the user’s history. The algorithms push custom content into videos, news headlines, and product recommendations. The latter is significant as Douyin’s algorithms have produced enormous consumer engagement for content. As the company moves into e-commerce, the effectiveness of its recommendation algorithms will be key.
Alibaba-owned e-commerce site Tmall applies sort-selected algorithms to rank products using the user’s click, purchase, sales volume, and other data.
As for Tencent’s WeChat, personalized push algorithms are applied to information gathered from the users’ browsing history, what content the user is watching, and other data—resulting in recommended graphics, text, and video content.
Zhai Wei is an executive director of the Competition Law Research Center at East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai. He said, “The information provided by the companies to the CAC is much more detailed than what was published for sure, and that involves some business secrets, which is not possible to be released to the public.”
According to Kendra Schaefer, head of tech policy research at Trivium China, “I’m not aware of any other country in the world where you can go see a list of all of the pieces of code that are essentially informing the decisions that you make, the purchasing decisions that you make, the content viewing decisions that you make.”
The Chinese internet watchdog said it would keep updating the list.