China tightens control over big tech

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When it comes to China is forging its own path to regulation of big tech. Officials recently announced suppression against medical and financial misinformation, demanding that influential people have the right to speak on certain topics. For example, those who have built up a massive following giving out health and financial advice may soon need skill or shut up.

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The problem of influencers ranting about topics about which they have little real knowledge is not unique to China, but the proposed solution to this problem is unique. And the scale wanghong, or influencer marketing, in China makes it a current issue. Haiqing Yu, an associate researcher at RMIT University in Australia, explains that Chinese social media is flooded with complaints from people who followed the advice of influencers only to have things go wrong.

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This is not the first time China has taken a straight forward approach to technical regulation. In August 2021, officials presented new laws limit the amount of time that persons under the age of 18 can play online games. It was a massive regulatory intervention, partly aimed at combating internet addiction. “They don’t just talk about it, they just implement the policy,” says Anthony Fung, professor of transnational and digital media at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Then, in March 2022, China announced plans extend the video game rule to streaming services and social media platforms. In the same month new rules around personalized algorithmic recommendations –and discrimination-It entered into force. Among the implications of China’s AI law has been stronger protections for workers in the gig economy who rely on algorithmic solutions to generate their income.

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“The rest of the world should take notice,” says Graham Webster, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Cyber ​​Policy. “In some areas, the Chinese government has been faster than other major markets in developing and enacting regulations.”

The effectiveness of such regulation and its applicability outside of China remains to be seen. But one thing is already clear: they are a heavy burden on the big tech firms and the people who use them. overlay new algorithmic regulation led to company-wide reviews of how firms process data. These checks must be submitted to the China Cyberspace Authority, the country’s internet regulator, which determines whether the algorithm’s impact on people is acceptable or not.

Giving the government a final say about, for example, whether an algorithm can harm a certain group of people is potentially a model that can be exported elsewhere. But such power becomes threatening in the hands of an all-encompassing Chinese state. accused of genocide.

Angela Zhang, an antitrust specialist and associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, calls China’s regulatory shift “unique,” in large part because of the country’s hierarchical political system and relative lack of checks and balances. And, Fung adds, much of China’s approach to tech regulation is based on draconian laws, such as its real-name policy, which requires people to associate a government’s identity with online activities. Such a policy would be unthinkable in a liberal democracy, Webster argues.

The goals of China’s technical regulation are often in direct conflict with what the rest of the world is trying to do. “Nothing, or very little, that is done in China limits the power of the biggest data processor of all: the Chinese government,” says Jamie Susskind, a data and technology lawyer at London-based law firm 11KBW. In China, officials have focused on regulation of domestic technology companies until the time of submission. Wider tech criticism has already led Alibaba co-founder and executive chairman Jack Ma withdrawal from public life and rumored to be behind the decision of Zhang Yiming, founder of ByteDance, step down as CEO.

Ma’s dramatic fall is typical of China’s approach to regulation. “When we start to admire the Chinese model of enforcement, we lose sight of the fact that regulation should not only rein in private companies,” says Susskind. “It should also limit the power of the state.” This is rare in China. The challenge, Webster adds, is to identify areas in which China and the rest of the world share common goals and areas in which China pursues goals that a democracy would find hateful.

Let’s take draft rules on synthetic media as an example. Submitted in January, the proposals call for limiting the spread of deepfake content, a problem that has affected not only China, but the whole world. According to the rules, nothing “synthetic” can be promoted using algorithms. Apps promoting deepfakes can face criminal prosecution and fines of up to 100,000 yuan ($15,000). However, China has been one of the main developers of deepfake technology, including Zao’s own appwhich became popular in 2019.

But China’s recent spate of notable moves against big tech is also a sign that officials are trying to catch up with the rest of the world. For years, the country, like many others, has allowed the technology sector to run rampant as a key driver of economic growth. And, as a result, the sector was closely connected with the political elite. Ma from Alibaba, for example, was member of the Communist Party of China since the 1980s. This proximity has allowed some tech founders to lobby officials for preferential treatment. “Before, Chinese regulation was very lax,” Zhang says. “Recent enforcement is basically restoring some balance between regulation and innovation.”

And in some cases, Chinese politicians are adapting ideas from the West. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation has not only inspired the California Consumer Privacy Act, but similar moves in China, including that country. Personal Information Protection Law, which limits the amount of personal data private companies can collect. (The state, of course, can collect whatever it wants.) The concept of observing what the world is doing and then coming up with a solution suitable for China is not unique to technology, Webster says. “That’s how Chinese politicians work: they actively compare other systems.”

Chinese regulators may take money from other sources to some extent, but they are largely forging their own path in how they seek to control the tech sector. And as more regulation is introduced, it’s only further splintered. internet is already broken. But, Webster argues, there are lessons to be learned from this. what kind China is doing, ratan, than how it happens. “There are smart people who are hard at work trying to change the Chinese digital economy,” he says. “The work is not that different, even if the political systems are different.”

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