New AI export policy could help TikTok protect core technology

Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/30 19:33:40

TikTok Photo: Unsplash

China's new regulations that ban or restrict the export of certain advanced technologies, specifically those involving artificial intelligence (AI), could help Chinese internet company ByteDance prevent its core algorithms used in video-sharing app TikTok from falling into US companies' hands, Chinese experts said on Sunday. 

The Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Science and Technology on Friday released the most sweeping adjustments in more than a decade to the catalogue of technologies that are subject to export controls. As the US government has launched relentless crackdowns on Chinese companies, the move sets a regulatory foundation for China to protect its own high technologies, experts noted.

Under the revisions, certain items related to AI and computing are subject to export controls. Specifically, transactions involving these technologies must gain approval and permission from relevant Chinese authorities before conducting material negotiations or signing export contracts.

The revisions mean that a forced sale of TikTok's US operations to US companies will be subject to the new Chinese regulations, as the algorithms behind the popular video-sharing app were developed with Chinese users' data, according to Wang Peng, an assistant professor at the Gaoling School of Artificial Intelligence at the Renmin University of China.

"The overseas versions of TikTok may have also used the same algorithms, and if so, the sale of TikTok is subject to the new law," Wang told the Global Times on Sunday, noting that the revised catalogue was aimed at protecting China's economic security in the field of data.

Following executive orders issued by US President Donald Trump that force TikTok to sell its US business to a US company or face a ban, several US companies, including Microsoft, Walmart and Oracle, are reportedly seeking to purchase the assets. 

Chinese experts and officials have harshly criticized the US move as "modern piracy" and state-sponsored robbery of a valuable Chinese firm.

The US companies appear to be particularly interested in TikTok's algorithms behind the popular app, but those now fall under China's export controls, experts noted. 

"This basically establishes the policy and regulatory foundation for Chinese regulators and companies to protect their core technologies from being taken away arbitrarily," Shen Yi, a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Shen added that while the sale of TikTok's US assets could be allowed, the sale of TikTok's core technologies is subject to new Chinese regulations. 

"The policy is not to stop any Chinese business from conducting normal transactions with foreign counterparts, it is a broad move to help them fight back against foreign bullying," Shen said.


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