Google And Facebook May Have To Cough Up Their Algorithms If Australian Proposal Lands

Image: Paul Sakuma, AP

Facebook and Google could be forced to give up the deets about their secret sauce algorithms thanks to an Australian proposal for increased regulation of the tech giants. If implemented, these measures could set a precedent for how global lawmakers curtail these companies’ influence amid increasing privacy and antitrust scandals.

The companies were among a host of platforms targeted in an 18-month investigation by Australia’s independent antitrust authority, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, to identify how search engines and social media affect advertisers, media, and consumers.

But in a press conference about the report’s release Friday, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg referenced Google and Facebook specifically amid comments that the ACCC planned to “lift the veil” on their coveted algorithms to protect consumer privacy, according to Reuters.

The report didn’t go into the specifics of how exactly the government would get the companies to cough up the goods, but such scrutiny would be under the jurisdiction of the ACCC’s newly created Digital Platforms Branch.

“The creation of this branch will allow the ACCC to pro-actively monitor the conduct of digital platforms and investigate potentially anti-competitive behaviour on the part of digital platforms,” the report reads. While this doesn’t spell out the need to get their eyes on the companies’ algorithms specifically, you can’t exactly monitor a system you don’t have intimate access to, right?

The branch could also “compel relevant information” with a public inquiry, according to the report, if the Australian government allowed it. You can check out the whopping 619-page document for yourself here.

The branch’s creation was among the report’s 23 recommendations to increase transparency and tighten the government’s control over these tech giants. Others recommendations addressed tackling the spread of fake news and giving users more control over how their personal information is collected and used.

The government now has to decide whether to instigate these initiatives, a verdict Frydenberg promised would come by the end of the year after consultation with stakeholders, Business Insider Australia reports. Still, he said the government adamantly supported the need for such regulatory measures.

“Make no mistake, these companies are among the most powerful and valuable in the world. They need to be held to account and their activities need to be more transparent,” he said, according to Business Insider Australia.

The ACCC’s report comes just weeks after the Federal Trade Commission slapped Facebook with a $US5 ($7) billion fine, the single largest it’s levied against a tech company to date.

The decision marked the end of the agency’s investigation into last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, wherein up to 87 million Facebook users had their personal data compromised.

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