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Lords committee hears calls for greater transparency over algorithms

Posted on: January 28, 2021 by Ian Murray

A House of Lords committee has heard calls for Google to provide more transparency over its algorithms.

A number of newspaper executives gave evidence to the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee.

Committee members also heard calls for media organisations to get a larger share of the profits generated by their content on online platforms.

The committee was hearing evidence on the impact of the digital giants on the UK media.  The hearing follows warnings from Google in Australia where it has threatened to take away its search engine in response to government plans to make it pay media organisations for their news content.

Peter Wright, Editor Emeritus at DMG Media told the committee that the US online giant knew they would have to start paying for other publisher’s content in the future.

This comes as senior newspaper executives said that Google should provide more transparency over its algorithms.

“They know regulation is coming, it’s coming here, it’s coming in Australia, it’s coming in Europe,” said Mr Wright.

“America are going down a slightly different route but probably even more effective using their legal system to break up these monopolies.”

Gary Shipton, editorial director of JPI Media, added: “Transparency over algorithms is incredibly important to the regional industry and, as Peter has said, we have seen sudden and unexplained drops in traffic which has a direct impact on our revenues and that’s probably one of our biggest concerns.”

Mr Shipton said tech companies should pay publishers more for having their content on their platforms.

He told the committee: “The likes of Facebook and Google are dominant and they can stipulate the terms on which they use publishers’ content and, to be clear, all we are looking for is a level playing field and a fair payment.”

Matt Rogerson, director of public policy at Guardian Media Group, said in the past it had not been clear at points why media content ‘traffic suddenly disappears’ on Google and ‘the basis on which it disappears’.

This week Facebook announced that it had entered into agreements to pay UK media organisations for content for its Facebook News service which launched in Britain on Tuesday.

In October 2020 Google announced it was pledging $1 billion to media organisations to pay for news on its upcoming Google News Showcase.

At the time Google CEO Sundar Pichai, said Google News Showcase would be rolled out in Germany and Brazil from October last year with anticipated expansion to other countries including the UK.

Mr Pichai said that the News Showcase will be made up of story panels that will appear initially in Google News on Android. The product will launch soon on Google News on iOS and will expanded to Google Discover and Search in the future. Partnerships have initially been signed with 200 publications across Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, the U.K. and Australia, he added.

He said: “These panels give participating publishers the ability to package the stories that appear within Google’s news products, providing deeper storytelling and more context through features like timelines, bullets and related articles.”

News Showcase has been set up to focus on Google’s contribution to the overall sustainability of news partners around the world, he said.