China Government Publishes Details of Tech Company Algorithms

  • China’s government published a list of details about 30 tech companies’ proprietary algorithms.
  • The list comes among a broad regulatory crackdown on tech companies.
  • It’s not clear exactly how much the Chinese government actually knows about the algorithms.

China’s internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, on Monday published a document cataloging algorithms belonging to giant tech companies including TikTok parent Bytedance, Alibaba, and Tencent.

The document is part of a recent Chinese crackdown on tech companies, which have historically been reluctant to give out information about their proprietary algorithms.

The CAC said in April tech companies would have to submit their algorithms for review, saying it would inspect them for “abuse” and “bad information.”

China is the first country in the world to publish an index of private company algorithms, although it is not clear exactly how much information the companies actually surrendered.

The descriptions of each company algorithm are fairly superficial. For example the document outlined an algorithm used by Douyin, which is the Chinese version of Tiktok — both of which are owned by parent company Bytedance.

The document said Douyin’s algorithm is used for recommending content including graphics, videos, products and services, based on user behavior such as “likes” and “dislikes,” per a CNBC translation.

Descriptions like this don’t tell us much about how companies’ algorithms actually work under the hood, and don’t indicate clearly whether the companies actually shared the code that makes up the algorithms with the government.

It is possible the companies did share more information with government that wasn’t released.

Insider contacted the Chinese embassy in London for further clarification on whether the government had required companies to hand over code. It did not immediately respond.

Insider also contacted six out of the 30 listed companies including Bytedance, Alibaba, and Tencent. None immediately responded.

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