Investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election could force Google and Facebook to reveal algorithm secrets, according to a report.
“As the probes unfold into social media’s role in spreading misinformation, U.S. lawmakers are beginning to show an interest in the mechanics of everything from how Facebook weights news items to how Google ranks search results,” reported Politico on Sunday. “The questions, which echo European regulators’ interventionist approach to technology, are a stark change for Silicon Valley companies accustomed to deference from U.S. officials on how they run their operations.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) warned last month that “the use of Facebook’s algorithms and the way it tends to potentially reinforce people’s informational bias” could be a problem, adding, “This is a far broader issue than Russia, but one that we really need to know more about.”
Marc Rotenberg, an executive director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, also proposed investigating the algorithms of leading technology companies.
“Algorithmic transparency is also key to corporate accountability,” Rotenberg declared. “Without knowledge of the factors that provide the basis for decisions, it is impossible to know whether companies engage in practices that are deceptive, discriminatory or unethical.”
Google’s search rankings and Facebook’s news selections could be of particular interest to investigators, as well as advertisements on the two platforms.
According to Politico, “Technology companies have traditionally balked at the idea that they should have to lift their hoods to lawmakers or regulators,” due to the fact that “the algorithms in some cases constitute the bulk of their assets.”
“It’s a big reason most people use Google’s search engine instead of, say, Bing,” they explained. “Sharing them with a leak-prone Congress or executive branch agency could mean giving away a competitive advantage. The companies also argue that they often improve their products so quickly that stopping to document what they’ve done would slow technological progress.”
In September, it was reported that FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller was “now in possession of Russian-linked ads run on Facebook during the presidential election,” which he obtained with a search warrant.
Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg encouraged further investigation into large technology companies over alleged Russian interference, expressing “regret” at previously thinking Facebook had nothing to do with “the outcome of the election.”
“This is too important an issue to be dismissive,” he concluded.