Google: ARTICLE 19 joins call for transparency in web-based content distribution

Google: ARTICLE 19 joins call for transparency in web-based content distribution - Digital

Panos: People at the Google booth at the re:publica internet conference 2017.

In December 2017, ARTICLE 19 signed an open letter calling for Google to introduce further transparency mechanisms to their website optimisation project known as Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). AMP, which also stands for “amplify”, consists of procedures aimed at making content on AMP websites more accessible. While we support these goals, we are concerned that AMP’s current implementation obscures real content providers from users and reinforces Google’s online dominance. This risks violating the right to freedom of expression and information and also undermines respect for media pluralism and diversity.

AMP-enabled content continues to display Google’s own URL to users, downplaying the identity of the real content provider. This could damage pluralism and diversity, especially combined with Google’s prominent role in online search. AMP makes it more difficult for content providers to choose how they distribute content to their audiences.

At the centre of ARTICLE 19’s concerns is that the current implementation impedes individuals from sourcing the information they receive. If all information appears to come from  Google, individuals may assess the information differently than if they knew they were accessing information from a greater variety of sources. It may make it difficult to assess the credibility of information, and further increases Google’s dominance in shaping individuals’ opinions and learnings about contemporary affairs.

Together with five other organisations and hundreds of individuals, two proposals have been put forward for Google to enhance AMP:

  1. Instead of granting premium placement in search results only to AMP, Google must provide the same incentive to all pages that meet an objective and neutral performance criterion such as Speed Index. Publishers would then be free to use any technical solution of their choice.
  2. Third party content should not be displayed within a Google page unless it is clear to the user that they are viewing a Google product. It is perfectly acceptable for Google to launch a “news reader,” but it is not acceptable to display a page that carries only third party branding on what is actually a Google URL, nor is it to require that third parties use Google’s hosting in order to appear in search results.

Along with 13 Llama Interactive, A List Apart, Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation, NZZ Storytelling and Web Matters, ARTICLE 19 hopes to engage with Google in the future to support and promote AMP as the amplifier of democratic rights and free communication that it seeks to be.