Wen Li, a Shanghai marketer in the hospitality industry, first suspected that an algorithm was messing with her when she and a friend used the same ride-hailing app one evening.
Wen's friend, who less frequently ordered rides in luxury cars, saw a lower price for the same ride. Wen blamed the company's algorithms, saying they wanted to squeeze more money from her.
Chinese ride-hailing companies say prices vary because of fluctuations in traffic. But some studies and news reports claim the apps may offer different prices based on factors including ride history and the phone a person is using. "I mean, come on—just admit you are an internet company and this is what you do to make extra profit," Wen says.
On March 1, China will outlaw this kind of algorithmic discrimination as part of what may be the world's most ambitious effort to regulate artificial intelligence. Under the rules, companies will be prohibited from using personal information to offer users different prices for a product or service.=
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