CCP-Tied TikTok Parent Company, Others Share Algorithm Data with Communist China: Report

August 19th, 2022 5:04 PM

Major tech companies, including TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, Alibaba and Tencent shared details for the first time about their algorithms with the Chinese Communist Party, as the CCP demanded more user data information from companies–including “non-public” data.

China’s internet giants, from Tencent Holdings Ltd. to Alibaba to ByteDance Ltd., shared “details of their prized algorithms” with the CCP in an unprecedented move. China crafted those requirements allegedly to curb data abuse that “may end up compromising closely guarded corporate secrets,” Bloomberg News reported.

Bloomberg News reported the publicly available algorithm list merely has short descriptions of how the algorithms work, and the “product and use cases” where they apply. It is unclear if more information was shared to regulators in private. ByteDance, for example, said that its algorithm utilizes a user’s likes and dislikes to recommend content on apps including TikTok’s Chinese counterpart, Douyin. The CCP holds a board seat and financial stake in ByteDance.

But CCP regulations also require “non-public” data to be shared, including whether data contains “sensitive biometric or identity information,” according to Bloomberg News.

This news follows the revelation in June that Chinese ByteDance employees had direct access to U.S. TikTok user data. Following the report, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on June 17, “Is TikTok destroying civilization? … Or perhaps social media in general.”

While the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) only requires “basic information” from Chinese tech companies right now, Bloomberg News wrote, the rules may change in the future. 

“No one has ever had access to such [algorithm] details before,” Zhai Wei, an executive director of the Competition Law Research Center at East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, reportedly said. “Tech companies’ algorithms are the key business secrets that represent their competencies.”

China has tightened its regulations on tech giants. China passed regulations in March requiring internet companies to disclose algorithms that determine the content visible to platform users, Bloomberg noted.

“The information provided by the companies to the CAC are much more detailed than what was published for sure, and that involves some business secrets, which is not possible to be released to the public,” Zhai reportedly said.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor just issued a “cyber advisory” on TikTok, labeling the app “high-risk” because of China’s access to users’ personal data on the platform, Federal Communications Commission commissioner Brendan Carr tweeted Wednesday.

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