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UK watchdog scrutinizing algorithms used by Facebook, Google and Amazon

UK watchdog scrutinizing algorithms used by Facebook, Google and Amazon
UK watchdog scrutinizing algorithms used by Facebook, Google and Amazon
Google HQ in Mountain View, California (Getty)

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authoirty (CMA) has launched an investigation into the algorithms used by the world’s biggest tech companies.

The watchdog is probing fears that the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon can ‘manipulate’ people’s lives with the technology they use.

Algorithms are used by companies to serve search results, prices and other forms of content to different people based on data. While they have a huge impact on the way millions of Brits interact with online services, there’s very little accountability for tech firms over what they produce.

The CMA, Britain’s guardian on antitrust and monopoly matters post-Brexit, will examine concerns they are being used to influence shopping, travel, hotel and food choices, assess job applicants and even manipulate love lives through dating apps.

It follows research published by the watchdog showing algorithms could be used not just to personalise services, but manipulated to reduce choice or artificially change a user’s perception and more understanding was needed on how private firms create and deploy such technology.

It said further research into the subject was vital because much of what people do online, such as consuming news, socialising and ordering goods and services, was underpinned by the use of algorithms powered by artificial intelligence.

Hong Kong, China - March 10th, 2011: The facebook homepage, focusing on the logo, displaying on a Mac Safari browser. Facebook is the largest social media network on the web.
More and more people rely on algorithms for current affairs, shopping and even socialising (Credits: Getty Images)

Kate Brand, director of data science at the CMA, said: ‘Algorithms play an important role online but, if not used responsibly, can potentially do a tremendous amount of harm to consumers and businesses.

‘Assessing this harm is the first step towards being able to ensure consumers are protected and complements our wider work in digital markets to promote greater competition and innovation online.

‘We want to receive as much information as possible from stakeholders in academia, the competition community, firms, civil society and third sector organisations in order to understand where the harm is occurring and what the most effective regulatory approach is to protect consumers in the future.’

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There has been very little oversight of algorithms used by the biggest tech companies (Photo: Getty)

The CMA said the research and feedback would be used to inform the work of the new Digital Markets Unit (DMU) and the new pro-competition regulations it will oversee.

The DMU is expected to begin work in April and will attempt to give people more choice and control over their data, as well as ensuring businesses are fairly treated.