Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling on Facebook and Google to be much more transparent on how their algorithms work. Merkel wants those firms and others to reveal how they learn and understand people’s internet usage patterns, ultimately catering exactly what they view when they access the internet.
One needs only look at the U.S. election to understand a bit of what Merkel is asking for. If you browse the internet and typically tend to look at conservative things, for example, then Google or Facebook might start to only show conservative stories, given that those properties know that’s what you’re more likely to click on and learn about. But that can also be troublesome because it starts to narrow the field of view for online users.
“The big internet platforms, via their algorithms, have become an eye of a needle, which diverse media must pass through to reach users,” Merkel told Germany’s Der Spiegel, according to BBC. “These algorithms, when they are not transparent, can lead to a distortion of our perception, they narrow our breadth of information.”
Merkel worried about Google’s influence
Google and Facebook believe they’re already transparent enough about this information. Indeed, you can use Facebook to enter in information on which way you’ll plan to vote. And various news articles over the past several months have shown how the social network displays different content depending on what it thinks you’re interested in.
This works for plenty of things, like shopping, where it can be valuable to end users. I don’t have kids, Facebook and Google probably know that based on my habits, and so I’m not shown ads for toys or baby wipes and the like. Algorithms work well in those cases. But when it comes to news, it’s incredibly important for readers to find what’s important and true, not necessarily catered content that they’ll like.
Facebook’s news policies have been under fire all year, particularly after reports exposed the social network of favoring specific media outlets and choosing the topics viewers see – sometimes including bogus news articles. Merkel’s right to call on reform in this space.