Regulators in Australia are planning to launch the world’s first dedicated office that will be tasked with ensuring scrutiny over algorithms that are used by technology companies such as Facebook and Google. This has been set up as part of reforms designed to regulate the powers that the silicon valley giants have; which could prove to be a huge move setting precedents in countries across the world.
The main element of this is to reveal how those companies in particular are matching adverts to their communities. The branch responsible for this work will be called the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The US authorities have also recently announced plans to investigate the tech giants around similar issues. Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said:
“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 went on to explain that it was time that people had a clearer understanding of how the tech giants’ algorithms worked and with this in mind, usually the specifics of the calculations made by computers to help with decisions are a highly guarded secret as it is seen as a competitive advantage of these tech giants to have that information; something of which is developed over time and usually has a high number of resources put into it.
The new ACCC brand was one of multiple recommendations that was put forward in a recent report from the commission which also advocated strengthening privacy laws that would help to further establish a code of conduct; restricting how tech firms can profit from user generated content. There have been long debates in the past about how these technology firms use and distribute the content of its users including monitoring and sensoring.
There is now a 12 week consultation process that has been triggered off the back of these new proposals and then the Australian government can then act upon any recommendations.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the regulator was currently running five separate investigations into Facebook and Google.
He called for “a lot more transparency and oversight” of the two companies. Interestingly, he added that breaking them up remained a possibility which is something that has been gathering pace in the world of silicon valley for some time now.
One of the main issues that this raises is the perceived privacy and breach of trust for companies such as Facebook and Google. It reinforces that companies such as those are not safe or above the law with the Australian government; who could be the first of many, seemingly willing to go that extra step further to maintain the integrity, competition and fairness for consumers in an industry that is dominated by these huge businesses. The interesting thing to note here will be whether the investigations will be limited to just Facebook and Google or whether other giants such as Amazon will also be brought under the microscope to check how their software and algorithms are running.
Is this right? Should software companies be ready and willing to simply give access to the authorities to potentially business sensitive information or because of public interest, should they do so without hesitation? In this case, both Google and Facebook are both open and willing to participate in investigations.