China to regulate algorithm application for better protection of civil rights

An engineer in a big data industrial park in Changzhou, east China’s Jiangsu province monitors big data, May 18, 2020. (Photo by Chen Wei/People’s Daily Online)

Algorithm, a technical method used by internet platforms to match users’ demands with services by acquiring consumers’ personal information and habits, is facilitating the development of multiple industries, including online shopping, transport, tourism and food delivery. It is influencing people’s consumption decision and even daily life at large.

With algorithm, users can quickly spot what they want to buy among the commodities recommended by shopping apps, and receive the content they are interested in when browsing news and short videos. In addition, algorithm also helps life service apps push local restaurant ranking to users when the latter choose where they want to eat.

The technology has tremendously lowered the cost of the dissemination and acquisition of information, offering richer and easier-to-get products and services for consumers and leading to a higher efficiency of social functioning. However, some apps, with improper algorithms, are infringing upon consumers’ rights and interests by abusing users’ personal information, price discrimination and manipulation of traffic flow. They not only infringe consumers’ rights to know and choose and right of fair trade, but also disturb market order, which is bad for the sustainable and healthy development of platforms and digital economy.

In this sense, the regulation of algorithms is of vital importance for digital development based on big data, centered with algorithm model innovation, and supported by computing capability. Therefore, how to prevent algorithms from being “calculating” has been an increasingly hotspot issue in recent years.

Given the dominant position of platforms, the regulation of algorithms shall not depend solely on the conscience of the platforms. It calls for an all-round supervision system formed by laws, industrial norms and the society, so that there are rules and legal basis to protect consumers’ rights and interests.

China has rolled out and improved relevant mechanisms, and enhanced regulation for the brand new governance topic of algorithm application. For instance, according to a consultation document on the measures for data security management, online operators’ collection of personal information must be done within the collection rules, and those who have to expand the scope of information collection for business purposes must acquire consent from the subjects of personal information. Besides, an implementation outline for building a law-based society in the period between 2020 and 2025 also proposed to make and improve regulation and management rules for new media businesses such as livestreaming, self-media and question-and-answer communities. The outline suggested that regulation and guidance shall be offered for the R&D and application of new technologies, including big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence. These measures fully indicate China’s resolution to enhance algorithm regulation, protect consumers’ rights and interests, and promote healthy development of digital economy.

To regulate algorithm application, industrial organizations, enterprises and consumers shall also contribute their part. Recently, China Consumers Association convened a relevant symposium to build consensus on forming an effective mechanism of algorithm regulation. The symposium said industrial organizations should strengthen guidance and supervision, reject undesirable practices, and effectively safeguard consumers’ legitimate rights and interests. Consumers should also enhance their awareness for privacy protection and rights protection. Besides, enterprises must strengthen self-discipline, fulfill their responsibilities and obligations, strictly obey rules and regulations, and pursue integrity in their algorithms. Only when parties concerned fulfill their respective responsibilities can algorithm application develop in an orderly manner.

It is foreseeable that with the establishment of supervision mechanisms and the improvement of algorithm regulations, algorithm application and relevant industries will embrace a more prosperous future.

Source: People’s Daily