Facebook hits out at ACCC’s algorithm transparency proposals

Facebook has hit out at the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission’s proposals for an independent body to review the algorithms used by online media platforms.

Writing on Facebook Australia’s policy blog, Simon Milner, vice president of APAC policy, said the regulator hadn’t provided any evidence to support such a proposal, an idea that has been strongly urged by News Corp, one of Facebook’s fiercest critics.

Facebook’s Millner: “We do not believe that greater algorithmic transparency will solve the problem of how to support sustainable journalism in Australia”

“The ACCC has not made a case or provided any evidence for why they believe an algorithm regulator is a necessary, effective and proportionate response to the business model challenges facing news media. More importantly, people, not regulators, should decide what they see in their news feeds,” Milner wrote.

In its interim report, the ACCC suggested an algorithmic review panel as a solution to concerns about the digital platforms’ transparency and a ‘power imbalance’ between publishers and the online giants.

Last week ACCC head Rod Sims called on the advertising industry to step up its involvement in the inquiry, which is due to hand down its final report in the middle of the year.

In his blog post, Millner pointed out the Australian news industry has been in decline for nearly two decades, with declining newspaper circulations and the unbundling of classified advertising, factors unrelated to Facebook or search engines.

“Technology has impacted consumer behaviour in very dramatic ways, but turning the clock back won’t be good either for news consumers or for the thriving online services industry that Australia has built. Instead, it is important to look at responsible and effective ways to fund journalism.”

Millner suggested some measures the ACCC and Federal government could take to improve the prospects of the media industry, but said the company believes increased transparency is not part of the solution to the industry’s woes.

“We agree, however, that greater transparency about the operation of algorithms in both the public and private sector is important, and we will make more announcements in 2019 about our efforts in this space,” he wrote.

“However, we do not believe that greater algorithmic transparency will solve the problem of how to support sustainable journalism in Australia or in other countries, nor will it make it easier for news organisations or individual journalists to monetise their content.

“Stronger cross-industry public and private sector collaboration on products and programs — including those we are working on with local publishers — is more sustainable and consistent with solid commercial practice. We support regulation that is effective, evidence-based, protects consumer interests and is pro-innovation for Australian businesses, while:

  • reducing the harm that it is intended to address,
  • allowing governments to define what they want – and allowing companies to figure out how to meet that standard, and
  • allowing governments to certify the systems that companies put in place.

“We are engaged in discussions in several other countries about the prospect of new regulations on diverse issues like privacy, safety, copyright, elections and the provision of news. For all these debates to produce constructive solutions, there has to be a robust evidence base about the problems being addressed and their causes.”

The ACCC is expected to hand down its final report into the operations of digital platforms on June 3.


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