Opening the Black Box: In Search of Algorithmic Transparency
Posted: 1 Feb 2017
Date Written: December 5, 2016
Given the importance of search engines for public access to knowledge and questions over their neutrality, there have been many theoretical debates about the regulation of the search market and the transparency of search algorithms. However, there is little research on how such debates have played out empirically in the policy sphere. This paper aims to map how key actors in Europe and North America have positioned themselves in regard to transparency of search engine algorithms and the underlying political and economic ideas and interests that explain these positions. It also discusses the strategies actors have used to advocate for their positions and the likely impact of their efforts for or against greater transparency on the regulation of search engines. Using a range of qualitative research methods, including analysis of textual material and elite interviews with a wide range of stakeholders, this paper concludes that while discussions around algorithmic transparency will likely appear in future policy proposals, it is highly unlikely that search engines will ever be legally required to share their algorithms due to a confluence of interests shared by Google and its competitors. It ends with recommendations for how algorithmic transparency could be enhanced through qualified transparency, consumer choice, and education.
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