Chinese IT giants have revealed to local authorities the secret
Software

Chinese IT giants have revealed to local authorities the secret algorithms responsible for running TikTok, WeChat and other apps

An extraordinary event took place in China – local IT giants, from Tencent Holdings to ByteDance, provided authorities with information about the algorithms that power their systems for the first time. Experts do not rule out that such measures are theoretically capable of compromising closely guarded company secrets.

    Image source: Austin Distel/unsplash.com

Image source: Austin Distel/unsplash.com

On Friday, the local regulator published a list of 30 algorithms that companies like Alibaba Group Holding and Meituan use to collect user data, make personalized recommendations and manage content. Only brief descriptions of the algorithms are available to the public, but authorities have received much more detailed information.

Algorithms that rate videos on TikTok, posts on WeChat or Instagram* are often seen as the “secret ingredient” essential to grab user attention and drive business growth. However, Chinese companies have no choice — according to Bloomberg, in response to complaints about data breaches in China, they passed a law in March requiring internet companies to disclose information about such tools.

The mechanisms that govern the principles of the industry are kept in the strictest confidence and are often the subject of political disputes and speculation around the world. In China, the tech giants failed to protect their secrets – in contrast, for example, in the US, where Meta* and Alphabet reserved the right not to disclose such information on grounds of trade secrets.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) so far only requires basic information, but may request additional information when companies are accused of abuse. In particular, the publication of the list means that the interaction process between the authorities and the tech giants has been going quite smoothly so far.

    Image source: Austin Distel/unsplash.com

Image source: Austin Distel/unsplash.com

If earlier IT companies expanded almost uncontrollably in the country, then in recent years the authorities have begun to tighten the policy of their interaction with business. In particular, the Personal Data Protection Act and the Data Security Act were passed last year, tightening the rules for processing user information.

The list of algorithms has already been published publicly, but it contains only brief information. For example, ByteDance says its algorithm uses likes and dislikes to generate recommendations in apps, particularly TikTok’s Chinese cousin Douyin. Meituan said the algorithms help it allocate grocery orders to couriers based on downtime and delivery routes.

Under the new rules, companies must provide CAC and more detailed information, including the results of the algorithm security self-assessment, information about the data collected, including whether biometric information is collected and what databases are used to train the algorithms. It is reported that the relevant departments will constantly update the list of information required for the transmission of information. While it is known that the information provided to CAC contains some data that constitutes a trade secret, which of course must not be shared with the public.

* It is included in the list of public associations and religious organizations for which the court made a final decision, activities on the grounds of Federal Law No. 114-FZ of July 25, 2002 “On Combating Extremist Activity”.

About the author

Robbie Elmers

Robbie Elmers is a staff writer for Tech News Space, covering software, applications and services.

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