France made headlines recently with amendments to a draft economy bill aimed at search engines, particularly Google. The amendments are led by Senate member Catherine Morin-Desailly, and aim to create transparency and to deliver non-discriminatory results. With about 90% market share, Google is at the top of the French parliament’s list of offenders. Should Google be forced to disclose sensitive information like search algorithms to encourage transparency? Is the French parliament asking too much of Google?
The amendments specifically request access to search engine algorithms, as well as require all search engine services to display alternatives at the top of their homepage. Morin-Desailly, who is also Chair of the Committee of Culture and Communication, believe a heavy bias exists within Google’s current algorithms, which supports products and services for its own benefit.
The hope is to create more balance among the search results, so users have more choices, including local products and services that are poorly indexed. To facilitate this, another amendment stipulates that at least one alternate service should be a French provider.
This is not the first time Google has found itself at the center of debate in Europe. In 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that Google had to grant individuals the “right to be forgotten”, which allows French citizens to request removal of false or outdated information from publishers and Google indexes permanently. The court ruling was in alignment with European data protection law, which does not however, set restrictions or guard against how those same algorithms push other data up to the top of search engines and others down. This is the objective of the new amendments.
France’s economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, is against the bill alterations, saying the actions should be left up to the European Union. However, Morin-Desailly and other senate members are making the case that the issue is one of domestic fiscal importance, and would take too much time if left up to the EU.
If the bill passes with these amendments intact, fines of up to 10% of the total global revenue for a search engine business could be imposed on non-compliers.
What’s more, the result of these amendments may create a slippery slope for search engines the world over. The ramifications of data censorship could bust wide open in France and result in similar legislation throughout the EU and beyond.