Google Australia boss warns ACCC’s algorithm proposals risk ‘poor outcomes’

The ACCC’s proposal for greater scrutiny of the algorithms governing digital platforms risks ‘poor outcomes’, Google Australia’s boss Mel Silva has warned.

In a blog post this morning, Silva laid out the search engine giant’s response to the ACCC’s draft recommendations put forward Digital Platforms inquiry’s interim report released last December.

Google’s Silva: “Some of the preliminary report’s recommendations – such as an algorithm regulator – risk poor outcomes”

Silva dismissed suggestions for an algorithmic review board, an idea enthusiastically promoted by media organisations including News Corp, saying: “While Google supports news and journalism, some of the preliminary report’s recommendations – such as an algorithm regulator – risk poor outcomes.

“We already provide extensive guidance on search ranking, including our 164-page Search quality rater guidelines, and the How Search Works guide. And of course, Google Search results are open for all to see.

“We believe this approach balances the need for transparency against the risk of manipulation by bad actors and do not believe that an algorithm regulator would lead to higher quality search results or promote journalism.”

Google’s position on the ACCC proposals echoes the response of fellow digital giant Facebook’s, which last week claimed the regulator hadn’t provided any evidence to support reviewing digital platforms’ algorithms.

In her blog post, Silva also called on the ACCC to examine the advertising industry’s dynamics in more detail, stating Google is far from a monopoly as the company competes with other digital platforms and legacy channels.

“From an advertising perspective, search advertising is just one of many channels advertisers invest in and we compete directly for advertising dollars with other digital channels, as well as television, print, radio and outdoor advertising.

“The popularity of digital is, in part, due to the unprecedented ability it provides for advertisers to measure the impact of their ad spend and other media channels are fast catching up. This is not examined in the preliminary report and we believe there should be further consideration of the competition Google faces for user queries on search and the competition for advertising investment, both among digital providers (of which search advertising is only one part) and other forms of advertising.”

Silva said the search engine giant had no problems with the ACCC’s proposals to beef up consumer privacy protections, but said they should apply to all industry participants.

“The preliminary report proposes a range of measures to enhance privacy and consumers’ awareness of data collection and use. We believe these changes should apply to all organisations currently subject to the privacy act, not just digital platforms or organisations that meet a particular threshold.

“The ACCC’s preliminary report provides a timely opportunity to examine Australia’s changing media and advertising landscape. As we continue to engage in this process, we do so with the goal of balancing the benefits of new technologies, minimising societal costs, and respecting fundamental rights for all Australians,” Silva concluded.

ACCC commissioner Rod Sims is scheduled to hand down the final Digital Platforms report in June.


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