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Search engines unsurprisingly have different bugs.



It goes to show that what we really need from regulators is an enforcement of transparancy. Companies must explain their actions if they have a material impact on users/customers.

We see so many different cases here on hacker news that have one thing in common: Bad things happen and those affected have no idea why these things have happened.

It doesn't mean that companies need huge support organisations. I'm sure 99.9% of these questions can be answered by an automated system. Support can dig into the more exceptional cases and doesn't necessarily have to be free.


The biggest problem here is not the support cost, but that offering this kind of information gives people insight into how the algorithm works so they can better game it.

In search, email, etc there's continual competition between people trying to trick the span detection algorithm and people trying to extend the algorithm to counter them. Secrecy is a critical tool on both sides of this fight. Force transparency on the algorithm maintainers and it's output will get much worse.

Keeping the algorithm secret has downsides, but is worth it (for society at large) on balance.

(Disclosure: I work for Google, on unrelated things, and don't know anything Google-specific here.)


That's not the level of detail I'm asking for. I'm not talking about publishing the algorithm.

But if there is a dramatic change in ranking or my site is removed entirely, it should be possible to ask Google to investigate (possibly automated) and tell me if something out of the ordinary has happened.

Secrecy shouldn't mean to hide simple mistakes on either side. That makes search results worse not better, as it was clearly the case with protonmail.com


True transparency comes at a huge cost too though. Someone like google probably makes hundreds of changes to their algorithms every single day from thousands of engineers. Thats a change every few minutes. Who could even keep up with reading and understanding that much documentation about changes to the algorithm, let alone the base way it works in the first place?

And those are just the manual changes. There are fully automated systems that crawl the web and use information from millions of web pages simply to rank your website. Any of those web pages changes, and your ranking might change with it. For true transparency, you should be able to verify that you got the right ranking as documented, yet merely calculating that is going to require you to get a copy of every other webpage in the world. No simple task.


There is certainly a limit to the level of detail that can be provided in any explanation. But that can't be an excuse for not responding at all when someone's livelihood is at stake.

There is a more general issue here. As we use more machine learning and AI, the problem of having to explain why a particular decision was taken will come up more often, especially if the decision has grave consequences.

All "AI-first" companies would be well advised to work on this problem. This is like computer security in the 1990s. It's going to be absolutely central to many applications of AI and it will be a key legal issue in future.


> Who could even keep up with reading and understanding that much documentation about changes to the algorithm, let alone the base way it works in the first place?

Someone at Google, hopefully. At least I wouldn't want to work at/be customer of a company where no one knows how their core product actually works.

If Google employees are able to keep track, so are regulators. If not, then the "cost" of requiring it may actually be a benefit.


I don't understand how regulation could even work. Companies such as google are increasingly using machine learning. So even to the company the results seem to be coming out of a black box, and they don't really know why. This can lead to bad results such as black people being labeled as gorillas[1]. But on average some sort of metric is being optimized.

[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/07/01/google-apologi...


Go switch to another search engine then.

If people wanted transparency they'd switch to companies which are transparent.


As others have commented this is not possible because it's not my choice to make the switch.

But more generally I see it like this: Without the law, Google would not exist as a legal entity. Incorporation is what allows Google to become a legal entity and it is also what protects Google's owners from having their personal possessions seized in case of insolvency.

So Google's owners have asked society for protection beyond what is provided solely based on market principles. In other words, they wanted rights, not just incentives.

I'm asking for the same thing. Rights that are independent of my ability to pay and are difficult to emulate through market mechanisms.


What protection is provided solely based on market principles?

I think corporations are part of market principles.

Your analogy is incorrect because the rights are different.


How do I do that? I'm trying to switch but I can't find the option that makes my customers use Bing to find my site. No matter what I do, most of them use Google.

(</NaiveToMakeAPoint>)

In other words, the people who need more transparency aren't the ones who can choose what search engine is being used.


How is Bing more transparent than Google?


What are my options BTW?

I am not you have any idea of how long it takes for General populace to realize that they are being screwed.

Ordinary people don't yet know because they trust Google - A trust which was build by constant "Don't be evil" rhetoric for over a decade. This trust also helped them acquire a monopolistic position so when they break that promise they need to be investigated.

Search is now a public utility and Google should be treated as utility provider.


Transparency should be a must, not a feature.


No private company is required to give transparency. The ones that claim to can be lying about it. Email is way more important than people realize and yet nobody gives a shit.


There is no monopoly in e-mail though. That's an important distinction.




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