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How to prevent algorithms consumers in the digital economy era.

In the era of digital economy, invisible algorithms always influence consumers’ choices.

In recent years, with the rapid development of the Internet platform economy, large-scale Internet platform companies have emerged in consumer areas such as online shopping, transportation, travel and accommodation, ordering food and delivery, and online games.

Some platforms provide consumers with richer products or services through big data, artificial intelligence and other means, creating value for society.

But at the same time, there are also some behaviors that infringe on the rights and interests of consumers: big data is familiar, the probability of online game lottery is unknown, the online live broadcast pushes content that violates the law, and the praise and negative comments are brushed…

Behind these problems is the “calculation” of unfair algorithm technology to consumers.

Consumers need a collective relief mechanism on big data

In 2020, a network technology company in Anhui Province was complained by a large number of consumers within one year, and the relevant departments received 953 complaints and reports.

Among them, the number of reports reflecting the company’s problems with the online game lottery probability and rule setting is the largest, accounting for 40.8% of the total.

During the investigation, the Anhui Provincial Consumer Rights Protection Committee found that it was not good to judge the legal compliance of the probability of lottery. The local consumer protection committee organized a joint processing promotion meeting between the city’s two-level market supervision departments, cultural and tourism departments, public security departments and other relevant departments to jointly investigate and verify the company’s probability and other issues.

Because of the lack of professional identification capabilities for issues such as probability rules, an authoritative third-party organization could not be found for identification, and the investigation was somewhat hindered.

“This problem has not been solved very well.” At the forum on algorithm regulation and consumer protection in the field of online consumption organized by the China Consumers Association (hereinafter referred to as “China Consumers Association”), the Anhui Consumer Rights Protection Committee Secretary-General Ding Tao is distressed about how to find a solution.

Behind the lottery probability is the execution of a set of algorithms. Based on consumer complaints, related surveys and related reports, the China Consumers Association has summarized six current algorithm application issues involving consumer rights in the network field, including recommendation algorithms, price algorithms, evaluation algorithms, ranking algorithms, probability algorithms, and traffic algorithms.

Among them, the problem of the probability algorithm is reflected in: some online operators carry out prize-winning sales and lottery exchanges, especially some online game companies regularly push game props lottery activities. Although the probability of winning (dropping) is announced, the algorithm program It is opaque and lacks control over the actual probability of winning, which has been repeatedly criticized by consumers.

According to Chen Fengxiang, deputy secretary general of the Beijing Consumers Association, algorithm is essentially a programming technology of the Internet. This programming technology has a certain degree of human participation and input. Some programmers do not understand the law and infringe consumers in the process of compilation. right.

Wang Juan, secretary-general of the Digital Economy Committee of the Beijing Computer Society, recently found that when the vehicle entered a route she was familiar with daily, the navigation of the online car-hailing platform gave a long and congested route.

Shi Jianzhong, the vice president of China University of Political Science and Law, had a similar experience. In his view, platform navigation gives a long-distance driving route. There is some motivation behind the algorithm, but it is difficult for consumers to obtain evidence and sometimes there is no way to save relevant evidence.

“Once big data is matured, it will be targeted at all consumers under this consumption model, not specific consumers.” Shi Jianzhong believes that the protection of consumer rights and interests in the issue of big data must be collective Relief mechanism.

Algorithmic research on countermeasures against companies with monopolistic behavior

The “14th Five-Year Plan” proposes to improve the consumption environment and strengthen the protection of consumer rights. According to Su Haopeng, a professor at the School of Law of the University of International Business and Economics, the infringement of unfair algorithms on consumers is reflected in three aspects-the infringement of fair trading rights, the infringement of the right to choose, and the infringement of the right to know.

He believes that in certain areas, such as the “two-choice” problem that infringes on consumer rights and the problem of big data, the supervision of individual cases can be strengthened to guide more companies to improve consumer protection in the field of algorithms.

In addition, the algorithm is also a kind of right monopolized by merchants to some extent. You can consider setting permissions to technically give consumers the right to close the algorithm, and stipulate such a right in the law to realize the merchant from a technical perspective. Balance between consumer and consumer.

According to Professor Cheng Xiao, the deputy dean and professor of the School of Law of Tsinghua University, many problems can be solved through technology in safeguarding consumer rights. For example, for companies with market monopolistic behavior, conduct algorithmic research on countermeasures, “using algorithms against algorithms will generate mutual competition between algorithms, thereby reshaping the market competition mechanism.”

For algorithms that infringe on consumer rights, he also suggested taking precautionary measures. In response to issues such as big data familiarization and price discrimination, the regulatory authority can require the platform to identify whether the price displayed to users is a personalized price that is pushed for consumers.

Lu Laiming, a professor at Beijing Technology and Business University School of Law and director of the Commercial Law Research Center, pointed out that it is urgent to improve the level of supervision technology. However, there are still disagreements in society regarding the regulation of algorithms as to whether they should be supervised beforehand or during and after the fact, and whether to conduct ethical review.

In his view, a principle should be established first, in terms of prior or in-process norms, to regulate the goals of the algorithm, and at the same time to conduct ethical reviews. But it is also necessary to conduct hierarchical supervision of different algorithms to determine different levels and standards of supervision.

The China Consumers Association pointed out that if unfair algorithm applications are allowed to develop disorderly, on the one hand, it is not conducive to fair and orderly competition in the market economy, and it is not conducive to sustainable economic development; on the other hand, consumers will face the squeeze of data algorithms and become a problem. The object of technical bullying has even been distorted by algorithms in terms of value orientation and moral concepts, and has become a “plaything” in the palm of platform operators.

“The unfair application of algorithms is aimed at the general public, and everyone may become a potential victim.” Li Yuanguang, deputy secretary-general of the China Consumers Association, proposed that the next step should be to strengthen the effective regulation of algorithm application.

“In the personal information protection law, anti-monopoly law, anti-unfair competition law, price law and other relevant laws, it is recommended to add relevant regulations on the application of algorithms.” Li Yuanguang suggested that the state should set up a special organization for algorithm ethics to be responsible for algorithm application ethics and rules , Standard formulation, unfair algorithm application investigation, handling, etc., and designate relevant government departments to be responsible for strengthening effective supervision of algorithm application.

At the same time, it should be clear that the operator’s use of algorithms should be knowable, checkable, and reversible. In the event of a dispute, it is obligated to provide algorithms, background data, related materials and explanations to relevant administrative departments, judicial organs, and third-party agencies, so that the algorithm application can be verified, explainable, and accountable, and strengthen the algorithm implementation method The burden of proof, clarify the responsibility and consequences of forging or tampering with evidence, and solve the problem of difficulty for consumers to produce evidence and identification.

“Strengthen supervision cooperation and mechanism construction.” Li Yuanguang pointed out that the application of algorithms in the Internet field is very extensive, and it is recommended that relevant administrative departments strengthen mutual coordination and refine supervision responsibilities; improve the basis for law enforcement, and do a good job in the connection of rules and regulations; strengthen the classification of algorithm applications Labeling and classification management, strengthening supervision of algorithm applications involving public interests, life and health, property rights, etc., strengthening supervision of algorithm applications of platform operators with market dominance, and strengthening supervision on values and ethics, especially minor education The application of algorithms to strengthen supervision.

Li Yuanguang suggested that an algorithm complaint review mechanism should be established to protect the complaints and supervision rights of consumers and all walks of life, “cultivating third-party technical appraisal institutions, and strengthen the technical review power of algorithm applications.”

At the same time, Li Yuanguang believes that relevant judicial organs should strengthen the analysis and research of algorithm application cases, promote the introduction of relevant judicial interpretations, strengthen the substantive review of algorithm application issues, and strengthen the protection of consumer rights through judicial precedents.

Source: China Youth Daily

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