As Beijing Takes Aim at Algorithms, Algorithms Take Aim at Americans

September 13, 2021 Updated: September 15, 2021


For months now, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been cracking down on big tech companies. Now, it has algorithms in its crosshairs.

At the end of August, the Cyberspace Administration of China released a set of guidelines, replete with 30 different “suggestions.” Ostensibly, the new rules are intended to stop algorithms from manipulating users. However, as authors at TechCrunch note, “Beijing is clearly wary of how purely machine-recommended content can stray away from values propagated by the Communist Party and even lead to the detriment of national interests. In its mind, algorithms should strictly align with the interest of the nation.”

According to the new policy, algorithmic recommendations should align with mainstream values and national security initiatives. Article 4 reads as follows: “Algorithm recommendation service providers shall abide by laws and regulations, respect social morality and ethics, abide by business ethics and professional ethics, and abide by the principles of fairness, openness, transparency, scientific rationality and good faith.” In other words, algorithms should behave in a manner deemed fit by those in Beijing.

Meanwhile, in the United States, algorithms are also in the spotlight. Up until very recently, Apple had plans to introduce a three point policy, which, we’re told, was designed to protect children from potential harm. However, on closer inspection, this may not be the case. For example, all photos sent or received by someone under 18 were to be scanned for inappropriate content. If those at Apple believed the images to be unlawful, then law enforcement would have been notified. One needn’t possess a high IQ to see how a policy like this could metastasize into something truly despicable. It starts with scanning photos for inappropriate content, but where does it end? It’s the equivalent of the foot-in-the-door technique used by unscrupulous salespeople.

As Edward Snowden previously warned, “Apple’s new system, regardless of how anyone tries to justify it, will permanently redefine what belongs to you, and what belongs to them.” Apple’s new policy is a full-blown assault on privacy. Couple Snowden’s warnings with Apple’s shady history of breaching privacy laws, and you have a recipe for absolute chaos.

Britain Online Privacy
A woman checks her phone in Orem, Utah, on Nov. 14, 2019. (Rick Bowmer/AP Photo)

The company has since delayed plans to roll out its new policy. Delayed, not canceled. The algorithmic crackdown is still coming. Although I reached out to Apple Inc. for comment on the matter, I didn’t receive a response. Is this surprising? Not at all. In the United States, big tech companies act with a great degree of impunity. They answer to no one in particular, especially not individuals who are critical of their policies. They are not in the business of protection; they’re in the business of profit. These profits, as you are no doubt aware, come at the expense of our privacy.

Redefining Reality

Algorithms play a pivotal role in the way Americans view the world. Big tech companies, now the arbiters of reality, are little more than mercenaries, quite literally profiting from our pain and misery. Through algorithmic manipulation, users are drip fed very specific information. We are led down very specific rabbit holes.

Clicking and scrolling frequencies are monitored closely, all in the hope of making behavior more predictable. More worryingly, companies like Facebook Inc. (which owns Instagram and WhatsApp) and Google don’t just monitor your search history, they also record data such as monthly income, religious values (or lack thereof), and credit card details. Even the likes of Uber and Airbnb, through the use of advanced algorithms, collect far more information on users than you might think, including a person’s location, gender, purchasing habits, personal contacts, even their phone battery level and romantic history. Considering 93 million Americans use Uber, and 150 million are Airbnb customers, there are ample reasons for concern. Why does Uber need to know your phone battery level? It makes no sense, you say. But it does. The more information they have on us, the more they can exploit us. We are mere pawns in an unruly game of chess, dairy cows being milked for data.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and part-time astronaut, once claimed that a company should strive to “figure out what they [the customer] want, what’s important to them.” He called this “customer obsession.” The likes of Facebook Inc. and Google, as well as Amazon and Apple, make money by monitoring our every move. Through the collection of data, they build very specific character profiles. Without this form of “customer obsession,” Amazon wouldn’t be worth $1.7 trillion. It’s important to remember that genuine care and obsession are not the same thing; in fact, they’re two very different things. The customer obsession feels a lot like customer exploitation. By invading users’ privacy repeatedly and unapologetically, it’s clear that big tech companies care little about users’ privacy.

How can we protect ourselves? The sad fact is that there’s not much we can do. Even more worryingly, as big tech companies become more powerful, expect the abuses to become even more grievous in nature. As these data-opolies accumulate more data on us—more volume and more variety—they amass greater fortunes; more money allows them to target us in even more imaginative and immoral ways. Google controls what we see; Amazon controls what we buy; Facebook Inc. controls our communication networks. As their wealth increases, will their vice-like grip over American society tighten or weaken? I’ll let you answer that one.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the likes of the New York Post, Sydney Morning Herald, Newsweek, National Review, The Spectator US, and other respectable outlets. He is also a psychosocial specialist, with a keen interest in social dysfunction and media manipulation.