ACCC will eye algorithms to protect small business: Sims
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ACCC will eye algorithms to protect small business: Sims

The consumer watchdog has the capacity to track how algorithms used by big tech companies work and will act to protect the interests of small businesses, its chairman says.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald  that smaller businesses and startups were not the focus of the watchdog's scrutiny of big data and the use of algorithms.

Rod Sims said the ACCC's overview of algorithms and big data will aim to ensure consumers and small businesses aren't disadvantaged by the tech of larger companies.

Rod Sims said the ACCC's overview of algorithms and big data will aim to ensure consumers and small businesses aren't disadvantaged by the tech of larger companies. Credit:Nic Walker

Instead, the ACCC will work to protect consumers and small business from unfair outcomes and has the ability to test how search and other algorithms operated by larger companies work in practice.

"We have the ability to do that, though we don’t have a lot of capacity. It's not hard to understand these algorithms. You can do it by throwing experiments at them and seeing what they spit out," Mr Sims said on the sidelines of the ACCC Consumer Congress on Thursday.

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"We have smart, young people just coming to us from university who can get in the back of these things and understand it.

"We want to understand what’s happening with those big algorithms to make sure consumers and small businesses aren’t disadvantaged."

In its preliminary report into its digital platforms inquiry, the ACCC found there was a "lack of transparency" around how key algorithms like those used by Facebook and Google worked and questioned whether the right balance had been struck between preventing advertisers from gaming the system and informing them about how the systems worked.

Mr Sims joined the chief executive of fintech MoneyPlace, Stuart Stoyan, academic Katherine Kemp and the chief executive of the Consumer Policy Research Centre, Lauren Solomon, on a panel to discuss key issues in consumer data and artificial intelligence.

He said the commission's final positions on issues such as the right for customers to ask a business to delete their data would not be finalised until after it published its final digital platforms report at the start of June.

It was important Australia had a broader conversation about issues including the right to delete data and transparency around how tech companies used data to make decisions, he told the audience.

"We won’t be reaching views on these issues until our report comes out at the end of June. But you have to have a debate about these things."

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Emma is the small business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne.

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