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China Sets Up New Bureau To Mine Data For Economic Growth

Friday March 17, 2023. 02:00 PM , from Slashdot
An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: China's annual, week-long parliamentary meeting just ended on Monday. Apart from confirming President Xi Jinping for a historic third term and appointing a new batch of other top leaders, the government also approved a restructuring plan for national ministries, as it typically does every five years. Among all the changes, there's one that the tech world is avidly watching: the creation of a new regulatory body named the National Data Administration. According to official documents, the NDA will be in charge of 'advancing the development of data-related fundamental institutions, coordinating the integration, sharing, development and application of data resources, and pushing forward the planning and building of a Digital China, the digital economy and a digital society, among others.' In plain words, the NDA will help build smart cities in China, digitize government services, improve internet infrastructure, and make government agencies share data with each other.

The big question mark is how much regulatory authority it will exert. At the moment, many different governmental groups in China have a hand in data regulation (last year, one political representative counted 15), and there is no government body that has an explicit mission to protect data privacy. The closest the country has is the Cyberspace Administration of China, which was originally created to police online content and promote party propaganda. 'It makes sense to set something [like NDA] up, given how important data is,' says Jamie Horsley, a senior fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, who studies regulatory reforms in China. 'But the problem anytime you try to streamline government is that you realize every issue impacts other issues. It's very hard to just carve out something that's only going to be regulated by this one entity.' For now, it seems this new department is part of an ongoing effort by the Chinese government to drum up a 'digital economy' around collecting, sharing, and trading data.

In fact, the new national administration greatly resembles the Big Data Bureaus that Chinese provinces have been setting up since 2014. These local bureaus have built data centers across China and set up data exchanges that can trade data sets like stocks. The content of the data is as varied as cell phone locations and results from remote sensing of the ocean floor. The bureaus have even embraced and invested in the questionable concept of the metaverse. Those bureaus tend to view data as a promising economic resource rather than a Pandora's box full of privacy concerns. Now, these local experiments are being integrated and elevated to a national-level agency. And that explains why the new NDA is set up under China's National Development and Reform Commission, an office mostly responsible for drawing broad economic blueprints for the country. We may not get clarity on NDA's full scope of authority until the summer, when its organizational structure, personnel, and regulatory responsibilities are expected to be put down in writing. But analysts think that it's not likely to replace the Cyberspace Administration of China, which has risen up in recent years to become the 'super regulator' of the tech industry.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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