China draws up plan to bring algorithms under state control in sign of tightened censorship
- A three-year plan jointly published by nine central government bodies asks local authorities to regulate the use of algorithms and uphold communist ideology
- China wants tighter control over how content recommendation algorithms shape online discussions among its 1 billion internet users
China has laid out a three-year plan to rein in the use of algorithms, marking Beijing’s latest effort to bring the country’s internet industry firmly under state control.
Under the new policy guidelines, local governments are urged to tighten the regulation of algorithms, while companies are told that they will be held accountable for misusing the technology, according to a notice published on Wednesday by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s internet watchdog.
“In recent years, algorithms have played an important role in accelerating the spread of information, fostering the digital economy and promoting social development. At the same time, the inappropriate application of algorithms has disrupted the dissemination of information, as well as market and social order, posing a challenge to the protection of ideology, social justice and the rights of internet users,” said the document.
The guidelines were jointly signed by the CAC and eight other regulators, including the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the State Administration for Market Regulation and the National Radio and Television Administration.
Algorithms have emerged as one of the most important assets of Chinese tech companies. The operators of video platforms such as ByteDance’s TikTok and anime-streaming service Bilibili rely on algorithms to continuously learn about the personal interests of their users and recommend relevant content or products to them.
The Chinese government has sought to regulate the use of algorithms to tighten its grip on what people can read and watch in the digital economy. A CAC regulation on content published in 2019 specified that algorithms should allow for some human interference.
The CAC document published on Wednesday reiterated the role of companies in self-regulation. Authorities said businesses should improve their ability to cope with “emergencies” related to “algorithm safety”. They should also expect to be held responsible for any consequences produced by their algorithms.
Internet companies in China have long been tasked with adjusting their algorithms to restrict users’ access to information deemed inappropriate by the government, while promoting those that are considered beneficial.