THE GERMANS ARE COMING! BERLIN OFFICIAL CALLS ON GOOGLE TO REVEAL ITS ALGORITHM SECRETS TO THE WORLD
Major officials in the German government have urged Google to disclose detailed information about its momentous algorithm formula, which has been so effective that it has allowed the search engine giants to ascend to total supremacy in the online search industry.
The news will likely be warmly received by the technological machine’s competitors, such as Bing and Yahoo, who have seen the complexity and intelligence of Google’s search engine improve monumentally over the past few years, leaving its counterparts firmly in its trail.
Germany’s justice minister, Heiko Maas, told the Financial Times (FT) that the U.S based organisation needed to start displaying a higher degree of transparency about the formula they apply to their search engine algorithm in order to determine rankings and rate sites.
An ex-ambassador for America to Germany, Robert Kimmitt, has hit out at the European giants for making the request, arguing that as the unofficial head of a heavily export-reliant European economy, they should be displaying a converse stance which protects the open market for innovative itinerary and services, rather than undermining its value through the demand of ‘the appropriation of intellectual property’ from Google.
The news marks the latest chapter in an ongoing tussle between the European contingency and online companies from the USA, with the former applying increasing pressure on U.S authorities to become more transparent with their data usage in the backdrop to the surveillance scandal. It is widely believed that European officials have growing concerns about the manner in which internet organisations use the personal data of their users, and Berlin’s decision to make a public request for the search engine’s flagship algorithm formula has signified the continents intention to achieve this.
Speaking to the FT about his decision to push for the demand, Mr Maas deliberated: “In the end it relates to how transparent the algorithms are that Google uses to rank its search results. When a search engine has such an impact on economic development, this is an issue we have to address.”
The overarching point that Maas was trying to make here was not that Google’s algorithm and subsequent web search supremacy are illegitimate, but more that they need to start being more transparent about how it works, in order to make them more accountable in the event that it begins to have negative collateral effects on the European economy and people.
Google has already been in the court with European officials this month, with a Brussels court only days ago denying Google’s latest peace settlement in a case against the search engine giants. It was alleged that Google had been utilising its status in search to promulgate in-house business, such as for dining, shopping and travelling in various regions.
Google has counteracted calls for them to release more information about the manner in which their search engine works, by arguing that it would be more vulnerable to spam on its domain from vindictive parties, and would also unfairly bolster the prospects of their rivals by providing them with their secrets to success, at no cost at all.
Germany has led the fight against Google to try and limit its supremacy in the market, and apply checks and constraints on its current level of power in both the business world and people’s lives. A number of top officials in Berlin have worked supremely hard to try and have reforms implemented into the manner in which Google performs its dealings within the European Union.
However, the biggest difficulty that European’s have had in this endeavour is trying to concretely illustrate that Google have been guilty of consumer harm, rather than the less significant charge of harming publishers’ vested interests. Whilst proving this is not out the realms of possibility, it appears that doing so will be immensely difficult for campaigners against Google’s supremacy.
Mr Maas, who also serves his country in the consumer protection sphere, told the Financial Times that Google’s overwhelming dominance within its industry was “exceptional”, highlighting that its market share within the web search sphere currently stands at over 90% within the European Union, which is significantly higher than it is in its home continent of the U.S.
“I therefore believe that Google’s power over consumers and market operators is extraordinary,” he said.
“We have to think about what precautions are in place so that this power is not abused.”
Haas also confirmed that despite their conflict of interests that Germany would be looking to attain a consensual settlement to their issues at present, but didn’t rule out more serious and laboured action if it came to them utilising a ‘last resort’ option in the future.
The Snowden effect
The origins of Google’s battle with European officials stem back to the Edward Snowden scandal, where it was found that the former system administrator for the National Security Agency provided a number of media outlets with a plethora of U.S surveillance secrets, bringing into contention the entire data usage practice of officials in the country.
One of the documents that Mr Snowden released purported that Google were one of many organisations within the U.S which authorised spies to look at the personal data of certain people who used their search engine, constituting a major breach of privacy regulations in the EU.
Despite Google’s staunch rejection of the claims, the scandal marked a reversal in the fortunes of American-based organisations who were seeking to heighten their protection with their usage of data. They had previously made huge inroads in this area and had provisionally secured modifications to older EU legislation towards data protection regulations before the internet had gone global.
The German government is now conversely working hard to try and secure more stringent rules about transatlantic data-sharing, and have pushed for the universal application of a clause in the EU’s provision law which would make it compulsory for American organisations to alert officials in the European Union prior to transmitting personal information of a person in the EU to the U.S government or courts.
Entitled the anti-NSA clause, the clause has long been seen by US officials as being unviable and unrealistic to invoke, due to a contradiction in U.S law about withholding data, putting members of the EU of court action there.
Jean-Claude Juncker, president-elect of the European Commission, has outlined his intention to have the controversial law instigated by the middle of next year; a potentially difficult target which might be untenable considering the complexities of law passing in Brussels.