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What Can the EU Learn from China’s Latest Algorithm Regulation?

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On December 31st, Chinese authorities published a new set of rules to regulate recommendation algorithms, safeguard national security and public social interests, and protect citizens. Are there any lessons to take?

The new set of rules published in the wake of 2021 by China’s central cyberspace affairs commission has been defined as “ground-breaking” by independent policy experts. While the new regulation (here translated in English), which will come into force on March 1st, 2022, is unquestionably intended to bring order to a completely different market from those of Europe and the West, there are still lessons that Brussels’ policymakers should consider, also in view of the upcoming Artificial Intelligence Act.

Here are a few examples: article 7 sets up the important principle that human oversight and assistance are required according to the scale of operation of any algorithmic recommendation service, while articles 13-14 deal with the spread of misinformation and the use of fake accounts.

Articles 18-20 provide specific protections for minors, seniors and workers, acknowledging their unique needs. Furthermore, article 17 establishes users’ right to opt-out of recommendation algorithms and erase undesired tags (“labels”) attached to their profile. Article 24 lays the foundations for a sort of “transparency index” of algorithms.

Although the bill is also designed to protect the interests of the non-democratic Chinese regime (for instance, by avoiding the dissemination of any content opposing state policies, see article 13), some of its principles could easily be adapted to the Member States’ laws and customs. Moreover, in an increasingly globalised and interconnected world, such an important step from the Chinese authorities should not be overlooked since a certain degree of harmonisation is needed to favour international collaboration.

Algorithms and data processing are undoubtedly crucial to the future of our democracies and our society as a whole. In addition to the new rules on algorithm recommendations, China has recently adopted a privacy protection law that takes a lot from the General Data Policy Regulation published by the Commission in 2016. Despite the palpable differences, the Chinese government’s strategy shows full awareness of how much the world is now interconnected and interdependent, another important lesson our Member States’ policymakers should keep in mind.

Envisioning policies for the digital environment in which democracy can thrive is a crucial topic on which Re-Imagine Europa Task Force “Democracy in a Digital Society” is working to foster Europe’s inclusiveness and equality. Since the Task Force’s first meeting, held in 2019 in Berlin, we have been working on the relationship between democracy, citizen’s rights and the digital revolution. Re-Imagine Europa is also part of the SoBigData Project Consortium that aims to provide a research infrastructure delivering an integrated ecosystem for ethic-sensitive scientific discoveries and advanced applications of social data mining on the various dimensions of social life.

You can stay up to date about the effects of technology and digital communication on democratic institutions by following our social channels and checking the new homepage of Re-Imagine Europa’s Democracy area.

This 2022 will be crucial for our democratic institutions, so stay connected!