The British government asked when Microsoft would 'get rid' of algorithms

image
  • Nadine Dorries is the UK's secretary overseeing all technology.
  • At a recent meeting with Microsoft, she asked the firm when they were going to "get rid" of algorithms as if Microsoft was the central authority.

Those pesky algorithms.

"Reining in" "big tech" is a trending political topic at the moment, on both sides of the Atlantic. A spotlight has been cast on Facebook, Twitter, and Google's ability to regulate and control information, and their implications for free speech and anti-competitive behavior. Indeed, Google was recently fined in the European Union for favorably promoting its own products in its dominant search algorithms.

In the UK, a large piece of digital legislation is likely to be passed in British Parliament, dubbed the Online Safety Bill. The bill would make social media executives personally responsible, complete with jail time, for failing to uphold pieces of the bill — especially as pertains to child protection. A supplementary bill also seeks to regulate "legal, but harmful" speech, which some opponents state will create a chilling effect over freedom of speech protections, while others see it as necessary to curtail rampant social media abuse.

In any case, the legislation in large part is overseen by Nadine Dorries, the United Kingdom's State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. Dorries is essentially charged with the oversight of technology in Britain, and at least in part responsible for proposing legislation and policy regulating technology in the UK.

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella.

According to sources speaking to Politico, Dorries recently met with Microsoft representatives to discuss tech provision in the UK. Dorries asked the tech firm when they were "going to get rid of algorithms," as if to assume Microsoft was the central authority on the concept. Algorithms are, of course, intrinsic to programming and mathematics in general, and not exactly something that could be feasibly regulated as a concept. I suspect Dorries was referring to potentially damaging algorithms in spaces like Facebook and TikTok, which are often criticized for showing users harmful content. Microsoft itself has a small footprint with products that actually leverage algorithmic social feeds, with Bing search being tiny in comparison to Google. Microsoft's social media platforms like Xbox and LinkedIn remain highly sanitized and, as a result, uncontroversial.

The UK Online Safety Bill does have provisions for algorithmic search, handing off auditory power over tech firms' algorithmic delivery to UK media regulator Ofcom. The bill previously wanted to end online anonymity in the UK, but after loud opposition, a compromise was created, forcing social media firms to grant users the power to block anyone that hasn't fully "verified" their identity, although it's unclear exactly how this functionality will work. The UK is also seeking to implement digital identity systems in the future, perhaps to support some of this legislation.

Dorries has made a string of tech-related gaffes over the years which underpin how little many of our leaders really understand the digital age. Famously in the United States, a representative from Iowa asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai at a hearing why his daughter was able to access inappropriate language on his iPhone — which is, of course, made by Apple.