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

Microsoft Logo 2022
Microsoft Logo 2022 (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • 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.

"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.

Satya Nadella

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

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.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

48 Comments
  • Pure idiocy! But the most famous gaffe by a US politician relating to the Internet was the senator who said "the Internet is a series of tubes" which can get clogged. Clogged by digital poo, I imagine.
  • Sigh. The late Ted Stevens. The idiocy of his "series of tubes" comment it something that really needs to be listened to to appreciate. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTonHRerMC4 The actual quote is at around the 2:15 mark, but the preceding 135 seconds of nonsensical rambling really put things into perspective. Here's a guy who most likely never used "the internet" trying to explain what this "internet" thing is to his constituents all while trying to make an argument against net neutrality using talking points provided to him by telco lobbyists. It was... as expected, a mess.
  • The euphemistically named "Net Neutrality" is the product of lobbyists from the Internet companies who need a lot of bandwidth -- Netflix, Google for YouTube, etc against those who provide it (telcom and cable companies). Just a push to get government to back one group of companies over another. To transfer web company costs to the companies who build the infrastructure. Laws that prevent companies from charging what they want only serve to kill innovation. The comic irony is that somehow, some people actually bought into the notion that new laws were needed to allow the Internet to be free, ignoring that the entire Internet and greatest period of innovation in our history had occurred without such laws. No law can ever makes someone free. Laws take away freedom. Always. Sometimes that may be worth it (e.g., we don't want thieves or murderers to have freedom to practice their craft, we don't want companies to have the freedom to dump pollutants in the river). But laws can never create freedom. There are lobbyists on both sides, but it started with those paid by the web companies. The infrastructure companies hired theirs defensively in response. In the case of Net Neutrality, at best, in pursuit of a short-term sense of security that Netflix won't be affected, by removing the freedom for infrastructure companies to innovate and charge what and how they want, it removes the long-term incentives to deploy ever-higher speed Internet options and neglects the point that if any company provides a crappy Internet service that creates an incentive to other companies to step in and provide better, faster, cheaper options. In my case, I just received notice that I'm getting my Starlink dish in a couple of weeks. No more phone company Internet. Glad to be rid of it -- hundreds of dollars per month for a barely-broadband connection. Innovation always leapfrogs the stagnant old guard. Laws and governments can't do much to help, but they can certainly get in the way. Net Neutrality was never needed and always a bad idea, like the proposed legislation in the article and for similar reasons.
  • Telling ISPs it's not legal--or even rational--to charge websites for the traffic generated by ISP customers--something which those ISP customers fully pay for--has to be called something.
  • Net neutrality isn't needed, but you're missing a huge part of the story: the US was and remains one of the the least competitive ISP markets in the world. Allowing companies to "charge what they want" in the context of low competition is a *bad* thing. When the idea of net neutrality appeared, the big threat to innovation in the internet sector was market power among ISPs, not Big Search and social media. NN was NOT a product of Google lobbying. It was misguided but well intended. Once again, your ideas about competition, innovation and regulation are too simple.
  • Andrew, I certainly don't believe that my economic theory represents an oversimplification, but that's probably true for all of us in evaluating our own positions. :-) In general, people who say that about economic matters have a short-term perspective, as in fewer than 10 years, and don't consider the long-term, unintended consequences for the "nuanced approaches" they believe to be superior. It is true and simple to state that government regulations reduce innovation and competition. That doesn't mean that government can't incent or induce certain areas to attract capital and research and therefore grow faster than they otherwise would, just that overall, that's taking away funding and effort that *USUALLY* would have been better deployed elsewhere, via pure market forces. It's like entropy -- you can reduce it in one area (think of an air conditioner for a house), but only by increasing entropy overall. Having said that, I emphasized the word "USUALLY," because I would acknowledge there are exceptions -- generally for extremely long-term planning, where the profit incentive of the market doesn't extend much reach, but government policy can still promote work there and increases overall growth as a result. For example, if not for NASA and the moon program, Elon Musk would probably not be putting up the Starlink satellites that will help many of us dramatically increase our Internet bandwidth, which in turn will increase national productivity and help everyone. On your specific of lack of competition, you may be surprised that I STRONGLY agree with you. That's a problem with the way local governments granted municipal or other small regional monopolies for companies to come in and deploy infrastructure. There was some logic in these deals -- it costs a lot to deploy, so granting exclusivity in order to incent the build-out, made some sense. The problem is that many of these were not time bound, or had 99-year terms. Even then, in most cases, that's limited to telco or cable deployments. E.g., none of them block satellite ISP access. In NH, our power company has begun deploying Gbps fiber and will be competing with our local phone company for rural areas that currently have no other options than a very slow form of DSL. In any case, the solution to too much government involvement in ISP monopolies is not more government involvement via something like Net Neutrality. I could support state and federal legislation to break those exclusivity grants, like, say, a 20-year hard limit on any such deals, including those already in place. Maybe make some exceptions to 30 years for extremely rural areas, where time to recoup those investments can indeed be measured in decades, if the ISP's can prove that those areas meet current broadband minimum requirements or can be made to meet them within some relatively short period (e.g., 2 years).
  • OK, I guess your ideas are more confused than simple. State-level regulation is government regulation. The federal government isn't the only government. And your industry lobbying theory of net neutrality is just wrong. The idea of net neutrality is older than YouTube and other high bandwidth consumer uses of the internet and is inspired by 20th century regulation of telecoms. Law professor Tim Wu from Columbia is the name most associated with it. It's true that the big tech companies supported it (it would help their bottom line in theory) but that's not the impetus for the idea.
  • Andrew, "state-level regulation is government regulation..." yes? I agree with that statement. You write that is if that's refuting something I said. Huh? If I was unclear and gave the wrong impression, my apologies. Let me try to clarify my meaning: There are 3 main levels of government relevant here: local (town, municipal, county in some states), state, and federal. The monopolies that hinder competition between ISPs today for using the initially installed lines were promoted by local governments, not states, and not federal. I could (depending on the specifics), support state or federal regulations to break up those locally supported monopolies. Net Neutrality entered the common lexicon when promoted by lobbyists working for Netflix and others. You may be right that it had existed in some form before that, but the mainstream movement with popular support followed the Netflix push for it. That Netflix found an existing "useful idiot" to latch onto doesn't change that ISP lobbying resistance FOLLOWED a push by the big content providers for Net Neutrality, not the other way around. I don't hold that against Netflix or Google -- If I were leading their marketing or legal efforts I might even support it. But for the regular Internet customer/user who thinks Net Neutrality is a good thing that will help Internet users generally, that's just ignorance on its long-term effects. Also, from a good/bad perspective, it's nothing more than a push for the Federal government to legislate in favor of Content companies over ISP companies, and I don't like the government getting involved in healthy market fights. Leave those to the market.
  • Ha ha. It is worrying when the boss gives the job to a politician who doesn't have any experience of the job. Wouldn't happen elsewhere. Are you qualified? No. You've got the job.
  • Reminds me of Price Harry criticizing Freedom of Speech and the U.S. Constitution as "Bonkers." Ignorance is free. Not surprising we see a lot of it. That said, I'm not sure I'm opposed to requiring using real identities to post online. It probably would encourage our comments to be at list a little bit more civil. But that should be the decision of the private company displaying the posts and up to the market to determine if that company is successful. It should not be up to some government agency, because those are made up of people with their own agendas. An honest government will never seek to control speech.
  • It is a dangerous state of affairs when idiots this clueless have the ability to abuse the authority of government and the law to regulate something they clearly know nothing about (and thus making themselves susceptible to being unduly influenced by whichever of the special interest groups concerned "yells the loudest"). This sort of thinking is on a par with the likes of Australia (politician) claiming that their law "supersedes" the science of Mathematics.
  • Well, there's idiots, then there's ideologues. This one's an idiot, but the ideologues are often very smart and sometimes they're very capable politicians - and because of that they're more dangerous. The ideologues are capable of a well designed and concerted campaign. In the US the leading ideologue in matters of the internet is Elizabeth Warren. Oh yes, and then there are the brain-dead nationalists. That's a whole other kettle of fish. Also more dangerous than pure idiots. They gave us Brexit, trade wars and a US legal immigration rate that is half what it used to be.
  • I generally agree with this, except that I would caveat that unilateral disarmament doesn't help the planet any more than it helps the individual country disarming itself. For example, I'm pro free-trade and therefore strongly anti-tariffs as just another wet blanket on commerce and growth, which in turn hurts standards of living world-wide in the long-term, but I'm for tariffs on China or anyone else if they are used purely as leverage to have the other nations' tariffs removed, and with clarity that our tariffs only exist as long as they're needed to keep the playing field level and will sunset if the other nations who had the tariffs first reduce theirs. Yes, this can lead to a trade war, but that's the lesser risk than effectively promoting tariffs through promising not to use them no matter what other nations do. Weakness invites attack by the unscrupulous.
  • "unilateral disarmament" You believe the Trump narrative on the trade war with China? To quote no one in particular, "SAD!" Last time I checked, despite his best-selling book, Trump is as incompetent a negotiator as he is a public health policymaker. Tariffs are met with tariffs, always. If you want a country to lower theirs, you have to negotiate. If you think only strong man Trump had the guts to stand up to Chinese tariffs, I have bridges and crypto to sell you. Even I'm surprised at your naiveness.
  • Ad hominem attacks do not an argument make. I don't care if it's Trump or an academic or a partisan of either party. I care about policy and what works, regardless of who or where the idea comes from. History has shown time and again (and I can't immediately think of any counter-examples) that dropping guard (unilateral disarmament) causes the thugs, criminals, and aggressor nations to take thug-like, criminal, and aggressive action. While this is consistent across time, just to pick a few examples from the past few years: Defund police, crime skyrockets. Inner city residents suffer the most. Take no action as Putin amasses military forces on the border of Ukraine, Putin invades Ukraine. Flee Afghanistan, show American weakness, and Putin becomes more aggressive, North Korea resumes missile launches, and China increases activity in the China sea. Soften position on tariffs on China, China takes it as American weakness and an opportunity to increase economic aggression toward the US. Going back further, Neville Chamberlain stands down for "Peace in our time" and Germany accelerates its aggressiveness, leading to the bombing campaigns in London. Obama pulls everything out of Iraq and ISIS takes over the area. I could go on for pages and pages and pages of these, with military and economic examples. Please by all means, if you have substantial data or case studies where unilateral disarmament has encouraged previously adversarial relationships, especially with dictators or socialists, to become friendlier and yielded better conditions for the United States (or the UK in the Chamberlain example), please provide it.
  • The scarey thing is that this is by far the most well-informed and intelligent comment that Dorries has ever made.
  • Quite possibly true
    She isn't called "Mad Nad" for nothing
  • Today I wrote to KFC asking when they're going to stop frying all their chicken in Kentucky. British people deserve fresh chicken.
  • Merely representative of the idiots passing bills like these.
  • She was stupid enough to take this bait too. The opposition have been throwing mud at the wall for ages on just about any subject, including privacy and protection, that they can leak a headline for in the hope that something sticks. Dorries clearly too stupid not to rise to it. This is, alas, politics, in most democracies now, merely an exercise in 'reaction to whatever the opposition stirs up'.
    The government, indeed most governments, need to ignore the noise and simply come up with a plan that engages the big tech firms and isn't rammed down their throats.
    Of course, this can't happen, because the other mudsling in progress is the 'tax big tech and make everything else free' narrative which does nothing to bring these companies to the table on any other issue.
  • The solution to our woes with the internet is simple. Accounts must be verified to an identified person. When you open an account where you can publish information to the internet, you must do it in person, showing identification, take a photograph, and take fingerprints. If something that is published to the internet stated as fact and is not true, then the account is closed. If the behavior continues, the person can lose internet access, and even be prosecuted for fraud. This doesn't apply to opinions expressed. There should be a space for people to express opinions and that is where principle of freedom of speech come in. We need to focus on fraudulent information. We do not tolerate legacy publishers like newspapers, magazines, etc., to publish fraudulent information. There are laws in place to prevent fraud. These laws are still applicable to internet publishing. We just need to know who is doing the publishing. The other problem with the internet is that it is free, and thus needs to be funded by advertising. That then leads to aggressive hyper tracking of our activities, tracking our data, manipulative ways to keep us online, and have targeted ads pushed to us. Our data and our activities on the internet should not be allowed for processing used for other people’s gain. This would be the so called “algorithms”. This would of course shrink advertising revenue, and we might have to pay subscriptions to things. But let’s be honest, paying for the internet with advertising is very inefficient. Direct subscription payment would cost society a magnitude order less.
  • Jeffery, I'm not really opposed to the concept of connecting accounts to the owners, forcing at least some personal accountability for posts. I agree with you that it would address facets of the problems we currently face. However, I don't want governments getting involved in that in a big way, because once they're there, it's a hop away from what we see happening right now in Russia as they stop their press from reporting that there's a war in Ukraine and has been going on for decades in China and every other socialist country. Governments should NEVER be trusted with that much power. Freedom is messy, with people saying all kinds of nonsense, but it's worth it. The solution to people saying incorrect things is skepticism by the readers or listeners, not government regulation on the speech.
  • I've been around communities where your identity is known, that does not stop ppl from saying crazy, off the wall or even dangerous, speech. And lol, good luck enforcing banning ppl for making fraudulent speech when you also allow opinion, which is typically what most comment based platforms typically are. And like did you miss the last few years on Facebook? That known identity stopped no one. And man, I would love to believe subscription models would save us, but browsing the web would be a pain and super expensive, though, it's already heading down that path for a lot of big sites
  • Good points. Minor comment: while Facebook does try to use real people names, it's trivial to get a fake name on Facebook -- they certainly don't do any ID validation to confirm unique accounts and names. On subscription vs. free with ads -- I would be happy to pay a few sites for membership, but that would mean I'd only visit a handful of sites. Most of the wide open independent web would be locked behind pay walls. And if you required a central "Web subscription" that then shared revenue with visited sites, like subscription music services do to pay artists, that would create even more effort by sites to skew behavior to whatever caused them to get their share of those funds. The current free-form model is good where sites choose if they want to provide a fully free site (e.g., most information sites are like this), an optional donation site like Wikipedia, a site funded by ads like Windows Central, articles behind a paywall like the Wall Street Journal, or a mix of free and paid services like DropBox. The freedom for sites and businesses to choose what works best for them and their users/customers is the best model, in spite of its warts.
  • "I would be happy to pay a few sites for membership, but that would mean I'd only visit a handful of sites" Right. Charging nothing is a business decision. Forcing businesses to charge more is not only pointless, but really inefficient.
  • Are you just agreeing with me, or am I missing your point? In any case, I agree with your statement.
  • Jeffery - I like where you are going, but this is an idealistic perspective, and puts average people at a disadvantage. Who will determine what facts/claims are True or False.... Hitler? It is VERY important to distinguish the difference between "speech", and a "transaction"..... If my "expert" speech causes a illegal or fraudulent transaction that substantially benefits me, then accountability should be allowed. However, if say Dr Faucia says that masks "are of no value", then later they are found to be "valuable" is he liable for fraud? I think thee is a grey area here... and any regulation must allow for it
  • Excellent points. The danger of handing this power over to a government.
  • oops duplicate entry...
  • Quick reply to the all the replies so far. Journalistic fraud is knowingly publishing false information; usually for personal gain. We all now have journalistic responsibilities thanks to the power of the internet and our constitutional right to the freedom of press. You can't expect people to be responsible if they are anonymous. I'm not saying advertising go away on the internet; just no longer driven by invasive, data hungry algorithms. General targeting of advertising works quite well. It's what has been paying for broadcast TV for decades.
  • YouTube is amazing at how wrong it gets my tastes. They advertise to me just about anything I wouldn't buy ever. That doesn't stop me from getting ads for crypto, fad diets, questionable fundraising, prepper idiocy, and an array of other crap that smells like snake oil. And what does this have to do with false statements by journalists? There's nothing in the law (at least here in the US) specifically targeting fraud in journalism. If you sell people fake medicine, it doesn't matter where you sell it, you're a fraud. (Platforms may have some responsibility but that's different and again has nothing to do with algorithms.)
  • I know what you mean. I often get ads for things I just bought, so have no more interest in buying it again. Sorry for the confusion, the "quick reply" post was addressing two concerns in one paragraph.
  • "Accounts must be verified to an identified person." Who's going to be in charge of that? Should we do that for phone numbers too? Have you not received a half dozen fraud phone calls in any given month like the rest of us? "The other problem with the internet is that it is free... paying for the internet with advertising is very inefficient" Says who? The whole point of the internet is ease of access and ease of publishing. Businesses offer their services online for free because that's their business decision. Are you going to force them to charge more? You like the idea of central control of the internet, but you don't know why, and you don't seem to understand the repercussions.
  • Better privacy laws is not central control. Better privacy laws is just something we need. Better privacy laws will make the highly targeted advertising less effective, but revenue stream will still be available from advertising. Digital identity is coming. It is a complex topic, but the tide is turning where identity on the internet is required to function in a digital world.
  • Jeffrey, highly targeted advertising may feel creepy, but it's relatively harmless. Government control is freedom destroying. I dislike ads, but I would rather have even more of that than allow government to have a say in regulating the Internet. Note that I'm not really opposed to sites, as private companies, CHOOSING to require personal connections to accounts. And to the extent people prefer that, it will become the standard, because users will gravitate to those sites. But again, government has no place in these decisions.
  • GraniteStateColin, I don't think you would believe privacy loss is "relatively harmless" if sensitive information gets in the hands of your employer, a potential employer, insurance company, loan applicant reviewer, or housing provider, and it impacts you negatively. Regarding government regulations, I don't think you understand the present vastness of government regulations. Regulations are put in place to makes private companies behave for the sake of protecting society. They usually are only put in place when private companies have proven profit motive is greater than maintaining the greater good. There are thousands upon thousands of regulations in place so it's hard to discuss them in general terms. Some regulations I think are overreaching; some really need to be there. Capitalism works pretty well, but at times when left to its own forces, can go off the rails and has to be fine turned to get corporations to be good citizens. The Cambridge Analytica and Russia manipulation of our elections has proven the present state of social media threatens our democracy. Regulations are coming for the internet.
  • Jeffrey, you wrote, "Regulations are put in place to makes private companies behave for the sake of protecting society." That is a common refrain of some on the left who believe government to be some magical fairy godmother who only takes care of people and can do no wrong. I'm not suggesting you're in that boat, but those words are concerning. Government is a far more dangerous threat than anything any company can do. This is not because government or the people in government are necessarily worse than a private company (there are inarguably many people in government who believe they are there to help), but because government has all the power. Only the government can send armed police to enforce its will, IRS agents to audit your taxes for years, release far more personal information than any company has, tap your phone lines, etc. And it can do those things on a political whim. Companies, at their worst, can't even approach that level of danger. They can annoy you, but that's about it. Even if they are run by a James Bond villain, maybe, at worst, they can hurt your credit a little. Just a totally different league from the terrible things a corrupt government can do (and does frequently, even in a democracy like the US, which has one of the better and least corrupt governments on the planet). The driving incentives for business are to increase profits, which means serving customers and increasing efficiency (increase revenue and reduce costs). While some unscrupulous people certainly twist cost cutting for reasons that don't help customers, the overall incentives are a solid net positive. Overall, they yield good businesses that are reactive to customers, the ones that do bad for short term gains don't survive for long. In stark contrast, the incentives to those in government are to spend their budget so they get as much or more the next year and add regulations because that increases power in their fiefdom. Or, for elected officials, not quite so bad, but it's to stir emotions to draw voters to the polls. Neither of those are as beneficial as needing to help customers to increase profits. Regulations give government more power while taking it away from the private sector, by definition, a reduction in freedom. Some of those are worth the loss of freedom, like regulations against dumping chemical waste in the town's river. Most are just ill-conceived power grabs that are completely unnecessary. Private companies have to compete and want customers to like them. That's the ultimate check on corporate behavior.
  • Microsoft does have an "algorithm", that impacts many. It is the "Spam Filter" in Outlook. I have noticed a major bias there. I believe that a company's search engines, internet services, are the same as a "store front" or "movie theater", "bar" or "broadcaster". Just like these entities, if their actions allow for illegal transactions, like providing an underage kid porn, or underage alcohol, they should be held liable. They allowed/enabled the illegal transaction.
  • Dear gov, when will you get rid of laws? or Politics?
  • I hope they get rid of logical operators next.
  • If and only if should be the first to go.
  • Ha, ha. /s Cheap-shot headline. Whether the words taken alone are entirely accurate, obviously she, and we, already know generally what she meant... enough to add that context in the article.
  • And that's assuming the "sources" were accurate.
  • That's all well and good for some codger who isn't tech savvy but this is someone who is the sitting government's representative responsible for IT policy, so they should absolutely understand this sort of thing to a sufficient degree to be able to use appropriate terminology in an official meeting with technology leaders.
  • Haha, I thought I have seen it all.
    How about getting rid of computer programming altogether.
    No computers, no online hate speech
  • When will the British govt 'get rid' of taxes
  • Don't look to The Conservative party for common sense, you'll be waiting a while.
  • This is the insane bat known as "Mad Nad" - appointed because she crawls to Bo Jon-Sun our vicious fat clown of a Prime Minister.
    They are all heading rapidly into Trump-territory, just in case you hadn't noticed