Google, Facebook and other internet giants would disclose the algorithms they use to return search results under new legislation proposed by US law makers.
The bipartisan Filter Bubble Transparency Act also would require the online companies to offer users an unfiltered search option that delivers results without any algorithmic tinkering.
Senator John Thune, a Republican from North Dakota, filed the bill on Friday. The legislation was co-sponsored by Republican senators Jerry Moran of Kansas and Marsha blackburn of Tennessee, as well as Democrats Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Mark Warner of Virginia.
Senator John Thune, a Republican from North Dakota, filed the bipartisan ‘Filter Bubble Transparency Act,’ which would require internet companies to reveal algorithms used to determine online searches
Tourists visit Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. The online firm, owned by Alphabet, like other internet companies relies on algorithms – a highly-specific set of instructions to computers – that track users’ behavior and location
Thune says the legislation is needed because ‘people are increasingly impatient with the lack of transparency,’ on the internet, reports the Wall Street Journal.
If passed, the proposed law would offer people more choices on how they receive their search results, without imposing regulations that could be legally challenged by the companies.
‘It’s a way of giving consumers more control, consistent with the light touch approach I believe in,’ he told the Journal.
Internet companies such as Alphabet, which owns Google, and Facebook rely on algorithms – a highly-specific set of instructions to computers – that track people’s behavior and location to determine what content to share on searches.
The tech firms say this approach better-tailor’s online search results.
However, conservative critics have complained that tech companies are using algorithms to exclude certain point of view and are engaged in online political censorship.
Republican senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri in July asked federal regulators to investigate the companies for alleged bias against conservatives through the use of algorithms.
Republican senators Ted Cruz of Texas (pictured) and Josh Hawley of Missouri in July asked federal regulators to investigate online companies for alleged bias against conservatives through the use of algorithms. President Donald Trump also has been vocal about the alleged bias
President Donald Trump has also been vocal about allegations of online bias. In August the White House was reportedly preparing an executive order to counter alleged anti-conservative bias in social media and Internet searches. That never materialized.
One White House official at the time called Twitter a ‘liberal cesspools of venom’ and described the potential order as an effort to restore ‘fairness in the system,’ reports Politico.
The Filter Bubble Transparency Act (pictured) if approved, the transparency act would represent the most significant legislative effort to limit algorithms
What’s an algorithm, and how does it work?
Algorithms, from a technical perspective, are complex programs that set up filters that prioritize and rank the dissemination of information.
To put it more simply, algorithms are instructions that detail for a computer how and in what manner to respond to a user’s input.
How recipes work are good examples of algorithms, because they describe what a cook needs to do step-by-step.
An algorithm takes inputs from a person at a computer or a personal electronic device – like taking the ingredients detailed in a recipe.
The algorithm then returns information, much like a cook returns a meal from a recipe.
Henry Dietz, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Kentucky, says algorithm are like assembly instructions for a piece of furniture from Ikea, ‘which are essentially an algorithm for solving the problem of building the desired piece of furniture.
‘The ordering can be a simple sequence (e.g., insert the bolt, then place and tighten a nut on it), conditional (e.g., if you purchased the optional drawer lock, install it now), repetitive (a loop; e.g., do this to each leg of the table), or even parallel (e.g., have a friend insert the legs while you hold the table top)’.
Thune said he brought the legislation over fears that algorithms could emotionally exploit users, firing up their anger and getting them to use a particular on line service longer than they might normally use it, reports the Journal.
law, would leave out user data completely when determining search results. That would include geographic location and browsing history.
A person would have to request or sign off use of such information, behavior patterns and details about themselves, the proposed legislation says.
The unfiltered search feature also couldn’t make content determinations based on the user or the user’s connected device.
Online companies with less that 500 employees or $50 million would be exempt from regulation, if the bill passed into law.
Firms that collect the data of fewer than 1 million people also would not have to comply.
If approved, the transparency act would represent the most significant legislative effort to limit algorithms.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican and one of the co-sponsors, noted that the legislation may end up part of a privacy bill that lawmakers will work on during a hearing later this month.
Another co-sponsor, Senator Mark Warner, who is a Democrat, warned that online users can have ‘limited understanding of how their data is being used and how platforms operate. This bill helps reduce the power of opaque algorithms on our discourse and put greater control in the hands of consumers’.
The US Federal Trade Commission in charge of enforcement would be charged with enforcement of the transparency act, if approved.
Senator Mark Warner, who is a Democrat, warned that online users can have ‘limited understanding of how their data is being used and how platforms operate’