The Guardian reports on calls by German chancellor Angela Merkel for internet platforms to “divulge the secrets of their algorithms”:
Angela Merkel has called on major internet platforms to divulge the secrets of their algorithms, arguing that their lack of transparency endangers debating culture.
The German chancellor said internet users had a right to know how and on what basis the information they received via search engines was channelled to them.
Speaking to a media conference in Munich, Merkel said: “I’m of the opinion that algorithms must be made more transparent, so that one can inform oneself as an interested citizen about questions like ‘what influences my behaviour on the internet and that of others?’.
“Algorithms, when they are not transparent, can lead to a distortion of our perception, they can shrink our expanse of information.”
An algorithm is the formula used by a search engine to steer a request for information. They are different for every search engine, highly secret and determine the significance or ranking of a web page.
Merkel has joined a growing number of critics who have highlighted the dangers of receiving information that confirms an existing opinion or is recommended by people with similar ideas.
“This is a development that we need to pay careful attention to,” she told the conference, adding that a healthy democracy was dependent on people being confronted by opposing ideas.
“The big internet platforms, through their algorithms, have become an eye of a needle which diverse media must pass through [to access their users],” she said.
My sense is that some Europeans are frustrated at how American companies dominate many aspects of the Internet. However, instead of trying to compete with the American companies in the marketplace (which would be a welcome development, as more competition is good), they have decided that regulating these companies (e.g., through antitrust scrutiny) is their best strategy for reducing American dominance.