France 'to demand that Google reveals secret search engine algorithm'

By

Press reports say the US firm would be required to reveal its formula for ranking websites under new legislation now before parliament.

This article is freely available. Check out our subscription offers. Subscribe

It seems that Google Inc’s troubles in Europe are worsening, as a recent report says that France is probably looking to ask the US search engine giant to reveal its secret algorithm, reports Bidness Etc.

According to a Financial Times report, France is looking to coerce Google in order to obtain its search ranking algorithm. French legislators are likely to put forth laws that would effectively hand over power to national telecom authorities to monitor and regulate internet search engines, keeping a tight eye on their search ranking formula. The telecom regulators could also then effectively take action to make sure that search results are fair and in compliance.

Google already is facing many difficulties in Europe. The company recently came under fire in the region over its user privacy policy after a 27-year-old Austrian student, Max Schrems, challenged the agreement that allows US tech firms to obtain and store data from EU citizens based in the US. Google has also been accused of abusing its market power as well, and is the focus of antitrust cases by European regulators.

France’s plans are being disclosed at a time when the EU commission is aggressively pursuing a policy of establishing rule of law and antitrust enforcement, in order to combat disruption created by internet companies. It also seems that France has joined hands with Germany in raising voice for EU rules to be placed on internet search companies operating in the region. Previously, Berlin had made called on Google to reveal its secret formula, through which it has been able to kick competitors and gain dominance in Europe.

Some are expecting that after a long time of criticism and raising objections, the EU commission has given a green signal for authorities to slap an official charge sheet on Google. EU’s digital head, Günther Oettinger, stated at an event in Hanover on Monday, “We have to make or even force platforms, search engines to follow our rules in Europe.” Mr. Oettinger has been quite outspoken against the success of US companies in Europe, and indicated that a decision might just take a few days.

Proponents who want to get their hands on Google’s search algorithm say that secret search ranking algorithm can be used to shut out competitors and promote one’s own interests. The same people want the algorithm to get public, so as to ensure a level of transparency and fair play by Google. On the other hand, Google argues that such an action would curtail its market power and would reveal its trade secrets to its rivals.

If the proposal to reveal Google’s ranking algorithm is successful in clearing the legislative process in France, then it would equip French telecom regulator, Arcep, with the authority to act as a watchdog over internet search companies. Google, in particular, would be compelled to display links of at least three competitor search engines in its search, and must also inform users its general rules regarding ranking. Furthermore, Google could face a penalty of paying an amount of upto 10% of its global revenues by Arcep, if the telecom regulator finds the company in breach of its aim of making sure that search companies, “works in a fair and non-discriminatory manner, without favouring its own services.”

Read more of this report from Bidness Etc.

Extend your reading on Mediapart Unlimited access to the Journal free contribution in the Club Subscribe