The White House has drafted an executive order for Donald Trump which would instruct federal agencies to investigate the business practices of technology giants including Facebook and Google.
Without naming specific companies, a draft copy of the order, obtained by Bloomberg, instructs antitrust (competition law) authorities to “thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws”.
Other federal agencies are instructed to develop recommendations on how to “protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias” within a month by the order, which has not been finalised.
It is currently in its preliminary stages and federal agencies will consult on its contents before it goes to the president.
Mr Trump publicly accused Google of rigging its search results against him last month, apparently based on claims broadcast on the Lou Dobbs Tonight program, a show on Fox.
He also claimed in a tweet that the web giant promoted Barack Obama’s addresses but not his own.
Google rejected the allegations.
Detecting and establishing bias in complicated algorithms is a growing problem in the field of computer science, with artificial intelligence being used to make determinations on issues such as the likelihood of prisoners to reoffend and loan interest rates.
Biased algorithms could have especially significant financial repercussions when they control the results of commercial platforms as dominant as Google Search.
The bias that Mr Trump has accused technology companies of remains political, despite research by independent parties not supporting his accusations.
However, the executive order could also allow federal agencies to investigate whether the companies’ products are skewed to support themselves in an anti-competitive manner.
If signed, the order could indicate a significant clash between the Trump administration and the US tech giants, which have risen largely free of regulatory interference since the dot-com crash in the late 1990s.
Historically, the US has taken a back seat to the EU when it comes to investigating the web giants on competition grounds, with the Competition Commissioner recently fining Google €4.34bn (£3.8bn) for abusing its control of the Android operating system.
“Because of their critical role in American society, it is essential that American citizens are protected from anticompetitive acts by dominant online platforms,” the order states, according to Bloomberg.
The order notes that “consumer harm”, a key measure in antitrust investigations, could be assessed “through the exercise of bias” – which is likely to raise concerns about Mr Trump attempting to influence political judgements.
The draft order states that any actions the investigators take should be “consistent with other laws” – apparently to reference concerns about conflict between the order and the First Amendment, which protects the freedom of political opinion.
Article By Alexander J Martin