Echo Chambers and Competition Law: Should Algorithmic Choices be Respected?

By Eran Fish & Michal Gal (University of Haifa)

Algorithms are employed by a growing number of firms in order to make choices for users. One prominent example involves news and views consumption through media platforms, which is increasingly mediated by algorithmic personalization. Rather than engaging with the rich variety of ideas on the web, many online users are exposed primarily to content chosen by algorithms, which generally attempts to fit each user’s pre-existing views. This raises questions regarding competition law’s responsibility and ability to protect the free exchange of ideas in the marketplace. We argue that while competition law can be used to protect the diversity of content in the market, the protection of a diversity of exposure is much more challenging. An interference that is aimed at exposing users to diverse ideas need not conflict with the goals of antitrust. In particular, we argue that even if algorithmic choices attempt to cater to users’ preferences, they need not conflict with the ideals of consumer sovereignty, autonomy and choice on which competition law is based. Yet competition laws do not possesses the right tools to tackle this problem, and therefore doing so may best be left to other mechanisms. The discussion has implications for other algorithmic choices which may seem to cater to users’ preferences.

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