Another day, another Google news.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has recently proposed a plan to establish a review authority that will oversee how search engine algorithms and how they rank information and web content. But Google is not having it.
The search engine giant said the Australian competition auditor's proposal to monitor algorithm movements may likely increase spamming incidents.
An Invitation to Spammers
A top executive from Google, Pandu Nayak, who serves as vice-president of search, warned that such a proposal will only invite trouble.
To quote Mr Nayak’s statement:
“The more open you are about how the algorithm works the more tools you give spammers to mess with it and the very people you’re trying to support with your transparency are the ones who get hurt.”
The vice-president for search is presently at the Pyrmont offices in California throughout this week of February.
Taking into consideration what he just said, algorithm oversight may not be a good idea. The Google executive was not certain about what the whole plan would entail or “what would be involved.” He expressed his scepticism on the feasibility of the proposed concept.
The Pitfalls of Giving Too Much Information
According to Mr. Nayak, the algorithm review authority is something we may want to be cautious about. No entity or organisation should undertake a plan that does not even address the problem. Even if it may address one, the absence of a workable plan may unearth “other problems” instead.
He said that the Google team was dedicated to values of transparency. This would ascertain that publishers and users around the world are able to understand the ranking system. However, giving too much information about how algorithms work could end up in massive spam attacks. Moreover, hackers, cybercriminals and other tech-savvy individuals with ill intention might take advantage of the system. As a result, Google will have a hard time reversing the bad outcomes.
Criticism and Consensus
The criticism came in the light of a pending Friday deadline for digital conglomerates and publishers to send feedback to the ACCC in its second round of submissions for the world-first enquiry into tech media and their effects on advertising income, fake news, online privacy and journalism.
One report recommendation was to add more regulators who would be responsible for tracking algorithm behaviour in social media and search engines. Facebook turned down the idea and deemed impractical.
Mr Nayak said Google has made important decisions to enhance the rankings for authoritative media sources and to enable news sites to earn more money from their content. One such decision is the removal of a contentious 2017 policy that let users override a publisher’s paywalls when reading articles for the first time.
Nayak added: “If there was a piece of news that some news site did a lot of work on ... I would be the first to say this is something that should be ranked at the top.”
Because news sites were requested to use soft paywalls, users were able to read full articles without charge. Thereafter, the system will lock out repeat readers.
Nayak did admit that providing the most relevant news articles first continues to be challenging especially when one has to prioritise an authoritative source that first put out a headline or rendered an in-depth new report.
Besides regular algorithm updates that improve and organise news results, the company's focus over the last 2 years since the United States election has been addressing the problem of fake news.
Google aims to do this by ranking trusted sources more highly while social media giant Facebook has tweaked its algorithm and partnered with fact-checking units.
“The primary reason we didn’t [specifically mention some fake news websites or articles] is because I don’t think algorithms are up to the task to decide on the truth or falsity of a particular piece of content,” said Google's vice-president for search.
Nayak added that he could not say for certain whether [Google researchers] have solved the problem of fake news. But this only because such a problem cannot be solved 100 per cent. On a brighter note, however, Google has made a lot of progress over the year. The team is still committed to continuing what they started and address the problem in the future.