Let’s Not Have a Bunch of Posturing Politicians Decide How Online Algorithms Should Work

A handful of lawmakers are pushing a bill that would make it harder for online search algorithms to give you what you want—yet another example of why it’s bad to give politicians power over tech policy.

A bipartisan pack of senators and congressmen led by Sen. John Thune (R–S.D.) The Filter Bubble Transparency Act has been introduced by a bipartisan group of senators and congressmen led by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). It is designed to ban major search engines and platforms based on unintentional information from deciding what you see. These are called “opaque algorithm” because it is possible that you don’t know the exact factors contributing to search results and information displays. This theory suggests that the platforms may secretly control what you see, in order to conceal or prioritize certain products or information sources or goods.

Although it may seem good on paper, it would be a bad idea to prohibit sites from using your secret data to determine what you should see. If it is passed, this bill could be disastrous.

You may not be privy to some of the data that algorithm use, but it isn’t necessarily secret information. This is just information about your activities that allows it to show you the things you like. Over at TechDirtMichael Masnick points out the wide-reaching consequences of enforcing this. This data could include information such as the device you are using to access a webpage, and whether it is accessed on a desktop or mobile. Do you remember the old days when it was possible to view a whole web page from your smartphone? That is something that no one wants.

Masnick further explains that the bill doesn’t do what the legislators think it will do—and that, to the extent that there is a legitimate concern here, social media feeds have already given users control over what they see: “even if the bill were clarified in a bill-of-attainder fashion to make it clear it only applies to social media news feeds, it still won’t do much good. If you wish to create a chronological feed, both Facebook and Twitter allow you to do so. However, some users have reported that their feed keeps returning to the “top stories” algorithmic curation.

Nothing is new in lawmakers losing touch with reality regarding their proposed tech regulation. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), one of the bill’s sponsors, was seen last time suing Amazon because it had the nerve to offer its own product line on its website. That is what nearly all major retailers do. He tells us about this piece of legislation. AxiosYou can find this link:

Facebook and the other major platforms control their users with opaque algorithms that place profit and growth above all else. Because these dominant platforms have monopoly power, they can manipulate their users through opaque algorithms that prioritize growth and profit over all else.

This lawmaker is ignorant of Amazon’s use of its brand to establish a monopoly over goods and hide competitors. However, if you search any product on Amazon’s site it will be obvious that this is simply not true.

It doesn’t take a group of legislators who aren’t familiar with social media to inform tech companies about how they should implement algorithms. As Masnick puts it, “This legislation seems to have no real purpose other than to allow these politicians to stand in front of the media and say they are ‘taking down big tech’. Smile disingenuously.