Editorial Notes

Algorithms must not manipulate consumers: China Daily

The paper says algorithms should never be used as a tool for service providers to manipulate or even cheat consumers.

A group of men uses their mobile phones outside a mall in Beijing on June 22, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Cyberspace Administration of China issued draft regulations on recommendation algorithms on Friday (Aug 27), soliciting public opinions.

The draft says that recommendation algorithm service providers are not allowed to register false accounts, trade accounts illegally, manipulate clients' accounts, give false information about the quality of products or carry out unfair competition using algorithms.

In other words, algorithms must be used to provide better services for clients and customers, and they cannot be employed to manipulate customers and clients for profit-making by guiding them to buy particular products or services.

The algorithm providers do their best to make consumers and clients believe that the algorithms know them better than they know themselves, and they should purchase whatever the algorithms suggest, as the algorithms know what is best for them and what they will love.

These providers never explain to customers how the algorithms work and how they get to know the preferences of customers. They mystify algorithms as advanced technology, which can put consumers and clients at the disposal of such service providers.

It seems that algorithms have turned out to be the magic wand that the algorithm recommendation service providers can use to command customers at their will. At the same time, customers are placed on the passive side of the cyber market, meekly accepting whatever they are recommended.

Targeted delivery is what such services are called by the providers. However, they never tell customers about the negative side of such algorithms - whether customers can become addicted to such services believing they will be able to satisfy their wants and needs, and whether such algorithms take away consumers' own initiative and whether the algorithms can be used to cheat consumers and clients.

It is true that such technologies as big data and algorithms do help make life easier for residents and help them extend the range of services and products they can choose from.

However, they should never be used as a tool for service providers to manipulate or even cheat consumers. The people-centered principle should also apply in the provision of services in terms of advanced technologies.

As stipulated by the law on the protection of personal information to take effect soon, providers should not just recommend targeted products but also other products, and provide ways for consumers to tone down the recommended products or services to a level they are comfortable with.

Technology must be employed in a fair manner for both service providers and consumers. Technology will otherwise become a tool for the exploitation of consumers.

  • China Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media titles.

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