What we can learn from the proposed Chinese AI regulations


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In late August, China’s internet watchdog, the China Cyberspace Administration (CAC), released draft guidelines to regulate the use of algorithmic recommendation systems by internet information services. The guidelines are so far the most comprehensive effort by any country to regulate referral systems, and can serve as a model for other countries considering similar legislation. China’s approach includes some global best practices for regulating algorithmic systems, such as provisions that promote transparency and control over user privacy. Unfortunately, the proposal also aims to expand the Chinese government’s control over how these systems are designed and used to organize content. If passed, the bill would increase the Chinese government’s control over online news feeds and speech.

The introduction of the draft regulation comes at a pivotal time for China’s tech policy ecosystem. In recent months, the Chinese government has introduced a series of regulatory crackdowns on tech companies that would prevent platforms from violating user privacy, encouraging users to spend money, and promoting behavior. addictive, especially among young people. The recommendation systems guidelines are the latest piece of this regulatory crackdown and appear to target large internet companies – such as ByteDance, Alibaba Group, Tencent and Didi – who rely on proprietary algorithms to power their services. However, in its current form, the proposed regulation applies more broadly to information services on the Internet. If enacted, it could impact how a range of businesses operate their referral systems, including social media companies, e-commerce platforms, news sites, and ridesharing services. .

The CAC proposal contains many provisions that reflect widely supported principles in the algorithmic accountability space, many of which my organization, the Open Technology Institute, has promoted. For example, the guidelines would require companies to provide users with more transparency about how their recommendation algorithms work, including information about when a company’s recommendation systems are in use and “principles, intentions and basic operating mechanisms of the system. Companies are also expected to regularly audit their algorithms, including models, training data and results, as part of the proposal. In terms of user rights, companies must allow users to determine whether and how the company uses their data to develop and operate referral systems. Additionally, companies should give users the option to turn off algorithmic recommendations or opt out of receiving profile-based recommendations. Additionally, if a Chinese user believes that a platform’s recommendation algorithm has had a profound impact on their rights, they can request that a platform explain their decision to the user. The user can also require the company to make improvements to the algorithm. However, it is not clear how these provisions will be applied in practice.

In some ways, China’s proposed regulation is akin to a bill in other regions. For example, the European Commission’s current draft on its digital services law and its proposed AI regulation both aim to promote transparency and accountability around algorithmic systems, including recommender systems. Some experts argue that the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) also gives users a right of explanation when interacting with algorithmic systems. Lawmakers in the United States have also introduced numerous bills that attack platform algorithms through a range of interventions, including increasing transparency, banning the use of algorithms that violate civil rights laws and remove liability protections if companies algorithmically amplify harmful content.

While the ACC proposal contains positive provisions, it also includes elements that would expand the Chinese government’s control over how platforms design their algorithms, which is extremely problematic. The draft guidelines state that companies that deploy referral algorithms must adhere to a code of business ethics, which would require companies to conform to “dominant values” and use their referral systems to “cultivate positive energy. “. In recent months, the Chinese government has launched a culture war against the country’s “chaotic” online fan club culture, noting that the country needs to create a “healthy”, “masculine” and “people-oriented” culture. . The ethical business code that companies must adhere to could therefore be used to influence, and possibly restrict, the metrics platform values ​​and recommendation systems that can prioritize and help government reshape the online culture to through their censorship prism.

The researchers noted that recommendation systems can be optimized to promote a range of different values ​​and generate particular online experiences. China’s draft regulation is the government’s first effort that could define and enforce appropriate values ​​for optimizing the recommender system. Additionally, the guidelines allow Chinese authorities to inspect the platform’s algorithms and demand changes.

The CAC’s proposal would also expand the Chinese government’s control over how platforms organize and amplify information online. Platforms that deploy algorithms that can influence public opinion or mobilize citizens would be required to obtain approval prior to the deployment of CAC. Additionally, when a platform identifies illegal and “unwanted” content, it should immediately remove it, stop the algorithmic amplification of the content, and report the content to the CAC. If a platform recommends illegal or unwanted content to users, it may be held liable.

If passed, the ACC proposal could have serious consequences for online freedom of expression in China. Over the past decade, the Chinese government has dramatically increased its control over the online ecosystem in an effort to establish its own isolated version of the Internet. Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, Chinese authorities have expanded the use of the famous “Great Firewall” to promote surveillance and censorship and restrict access to content and websites they deem contrary to the law. State and its values. The CAC proposal is therefore part of the government’s efforts to assert more control over online speech and thought in the country, this time through recommender systems. The proposal could also have a drastic impact on global information flows. Many countries around the world have adopted Chinese-inspired models of internet governance as they move towards more authoritarian models of governance. The CAC proposal could inspire equally worrying and irresponsible models of algorithmic governance in other countries.

The Chinese government’s proposed regulation for recommendation systems is the most comprehensive set of rules created to govern recommendation algorithms to date. The draft contains notable provisions that could increase transparency around algorithmic recommendation systems and promote user choice and control. However, if the draft is adopted in its current form, it could also have a disproportionate influence on the way online news is moderated and organized in the country, raising significant freedom of expression concerns.

Spandana Singh is a policy analyst at New America’s Open Technology Institute. She is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Expert Network and a non-resident fellow at the Esya Center in India, conducting policy research and advocacy around government oversight, data protection and platform accountability issues.


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