The upper house of France’s parliament has voted to require search engines to reveal the inner workings of their ranking algorithms to ensure they are fair and non-discriminatory.
While the law, if passed, would apply to all search engines, it is clearly aimed at Google, which dominates 90% of the search market in the country.
“We’re transparent about what ranks well on Google, including when we make changes, but by definition, not everyone can come at the top of the rankings,” Google spokesperson Caroline Matthews was quoted as responding by CNN Money. “Revealing our algorithms — our intellectual property — would lead to the gaming of our results, which would be a bad experience for users.”
The bill also proposes that search companies be required to post three links to their competitors, and was introduced as an amendment on a measure intended to bolster the French economy.
The penalty for not complying with the law would be a fine of 10% of the search company’s global profits. The bill is unlikely to be signed into law, however, as it is opposed by President Francois Hollande’s administration.
The vote came just one day after the European Union’s Competition Commission (an anti-trust organization) adopted a Statement of Objections over Google’s shopping results.
The basis of that complaint is that Google favors its own results above those of its competitors. “Dominance as such is not a problem, not in general, and not under EU law. However dominant companies have a responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition either in the market where they are dominant or in neighboring markets,” Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said at a press conference.
This isn’t the first time that the EU has taken a stand against American tech companies. And since 93% of online experiences begin on search engines and Google is such a dominant search engine, Google is often seen as a stand-in for Internet enterprise as a whole.
If it loses against the commission, Google could face a fine of $6 billion — about a quarter’s worth of profits — and would be required to modify how it displays results in Europe. Results in the United States would remain unchanged.