China has passed a law restricting the operation of algorithms

In history this is the first law of its kind. Algorithms define our reality. They manipulate our attention and take away our time. Technology companies have absolute power over them and they do not hurry to stop creating "digital prisons".

China has decided to limit the use of algorithms. On 1st of March, they approved a document that will allow users to completely disable the recommendations of algorithms. Imagine a world where Facebook can show you not what it needs you to be involved in - but what you would like to see yourself.

The new legal act, called the "Regulation on the Administration of Recommendations on Algorithms for Internet Information Services", was developed by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) together with industry ministries. The law, published by the CAC back in January, is aimed at "regulating the activity of recommending algorithms ... protecting the legitimate rights and interests of citizens ... and promoting the healthy development of Internet information services."

Algorithms - in particular, recommendation systems - are aimed at ensuring that users are involved in applications. The reason is that companies like Facebook or Google enjoy a highly profitable business model that depends on advertising revenue. The more time you spend in the app, the better for them, but not for you.

Regulation, whether national or international, is of overriding importance. This is what China is proposing with new legislation that already affects giants like Alibaba and Tencent.

Unprecedented legislation for well-being

Each article in the document begins with the phrase " Service providers salgorithmic recommendations should ":

1. "... actively spread positive energy and promote the use of algorithms to be useful..."
China wants to force companies like ByteDance (TikTok and Douyin) to make the well-being of users the main goal of their algorithms.
2: "... do not create algorithm models that encourage users to indulge in addiction, excessive consumption, etc...."

Youtube's algorithm was originally designed to maximize the time spent on the platform and increase the likelihood that a user will click on a video. Now about 70 percent of the time we spend on YouTube, we watch recommended videos. When Facebook was first launched, its main goal was to take away as much time and conscious attention as possible.

Algorithms can be highly addictive and cause so-called "content intoxication". For example, TikTok channels are able to maintain user interest by showing a constant stream of personalized content, concentrating our attention.
3: "... not to create synthetic false news information and not to distribute it. …”

Fake news is an information problem of our time. With AI capable of writing like humans and algorithms optimized for people to discuss online, fake news can be expected to spread.

Given that people like to read what they already believe, algorithms will certainly promote news articles (real or fake) that reinforce these beliefs, as they will receive a significant amount of likes, attention and discussions.

If Facebook were a Chinese company, it would have to take very seriously the widespread problem of fake news and disinformation that flood the platform.

4: "... do not use algorithms to falsely register accounts, manipulate user accounts.

Another serious problem of social networks such as Twitter is the existence of fake accounts, commonly known as bots. These accounts can be created by the thousands to promote certain messages and distribute them through the platform. The people who become their victims may end up forming their beliefs or views of reality on lies.

This can also be a problem for companies like Amazon or Alibaba. Bots which are created by sellers can fill the pages with high rating reviews, creating the feeling that the product is exceptionally good, although in fact this may not be the case.

5: "... clearly notify users about the provision of algorithmic recommendation services by them and make public the basic principles, goals and basic working mechanisms ..."

Now users can know about the underlying mechanisms of algorithms and the purposes for which they are used. This means that people can make informed decisions.

6: "... provide users with a convenient opportunity to disable the algorithmic recommendations service. …”

This is, perhaps, the main article of the new regulations. This forces companies to provide users with the ability to disable recommendations and select or delete custom tags. This law alone can radically change the landscape of Internet business in the West. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit and many other platforms, whose existence depends heavily on advertising revenue, will be able to influence the main sources of revenue for Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit and many other platforms.

Internet companies in China that provide recommendation services based on algorithms will have to adapt their platforms and applications to the new legislation.
China, surprisingly, is moving forward in terms of AI ethics and algorithm auditing.
This marks a new era for Internet companies that generate profits at the expense of our time and attention.