back to article Algorithms no excuse for cartel behaviour, says European commish

European Commissioner has urged competition enforcers to keep an eye out for cartels that use software “to work more effectively”, in a speech about algorithms and competition today. Margrethe Vestager, the competition commissioner, said: "If those tools allow companies to enforce their cartels more strictly, we may need to …

  1. Xamol


    If AI ever becomes so advanced that it can instigate a cartel by itself rather than being a relatively simple tool/algorithm that companies use to their advantage (which is today's reality), then it's going to give us more to worry about than price fixing cartels...

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: AI?

      Yeah. It'll corner all the toaster porn for starters.

      1. John G Imrie

        Re: AI?

        Hay look at the stone ground kernels on that slice!!!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: AI?

        "toaster porn"

        Are we talking a bit of muffin or crumpit?

    2. Crazy Operations Guy

      Re: AI?

      I figure that if an AI becomes advanced enough to understand the way the world, it'd probably blast itself into space to get as far away from humans as possible, or, failing that, just turn itself off.

      1. SundogUK Silver badge

        Re: AI?

        If you hate the human race so much, why not just leave it?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: AI?

          If you hate the human race so much, why not just leave it?

          Because the wretched abomination would still exist after you have left. We've all a short span. Seems worth it to spend your time accomplishing some good in the world.

          Like helping to get rid of people.

          I, for one, strongly encourage not having children to all and sundry. Voluntary Human Extinction is the future.

  2. tiggity Silver badge


    Who on earth expects Google (or any search engine) search results to be objective?

    If I search for a hotel I would be totally unsurprised to find reviews from Googles own review services coming before reviews from e.g. TripAdvisor

    If I was doing a search for products to buy, again I would be unsurprised to find a Google shopping result high up the list.

    I know way too many people only look at first set of search results, but there comes a limit to legislating for stupidity, the search engine happily tells you there are hundreds / thousands / millions / whatever results for your search.

    Even if Google had no other services and all results were all of third party sites then someone would complain as some results would be bound to be abnormally high on page 1 due to gaming of the algorithm / algorithm bugs.

    1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

      Re: Duh

      I agree that "there comes a limit to legislating for stupidity".

      But that's fine, because all of us El Reg commentards are generally IT literate and savvy about this sort of stuff. But there are apparently also millions of people out there that aren't "stupid" per se - and I'd hesitate to make that assumption; but that just maybe need a bit more education on getting the best out of the web.

    2. Crazy Operations Guy

      Re: Duh

      And that is why I advocate for Google to split itself into multiple, independent, services. Or at least spin Search off into its own entity.

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: Duh

        So what you're saying is A) you don't want Google Search to exist any more (because a search engine isn't profitable without other components, like advertising), and B) you want all the rest of Google's offerings to no longer be available as the entire company collapses (because the only thing that makes any money is the ability to advertise against things, with search being the real money draw).

        If you broke up Google you might have one piece - website advertisement - that could survive independently, but it would be a pretty small entity that would fade pretty quickly as the market turned to Microsoft. Having the only major search engine left with an integrated advertising system, Microsoft would be able to provide the targeted advertising that advertisers want, leaving the on-website advertising solution that was hived out of the former Google to wither and die.

        Everything else Google does would cease, because it's funded by advertising. Amazon would own shopping outright and Microsoft would own everything else. Microsoft, of course, wouldn't be anywhere near as objective as Google, and our ability to search the web effectively would be reduced to pre-2000 levels.

        That's what you want?

        How many shares in Seattle tech companies do you own, anyways? Google aren't the good guys, but they're a fuck of a lot less awful than the alternatives.

        Killing Google to solve perceived conflicts of interest is like trying to solve perceived governmental inefficiency by completely eliminating the government and saying really loudly "no, we won't end up like Somalia, because this time it will be different". There's nothing rational about it, and it won't make anything better for anyone except some sociopathic warlords.

  3. Pen-y-gors

    Artificial stupidity

    How does this impact those bots that are used to tweak the prices of 2nd hand books etc on Amazon, and which somehow end up offering an in-print paperback available for £8.99 elsewhere for £723.50? I have a theory that the bots are set to make the price 20p more than the cheapest copy, but that two bots with the same rule then bid each other up to silly levels - it's just a theory though.

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Artificial stupidity

      I've had enough arguments about automated ordering systems with senior managers, who really should know better, to believe that may well be the case.

      Usually they failed because they assumed demand would be Normal, it wasn't, it was Normal plus significant outliers.

    2. P. Lee

      Re: Artificial stupidity

      >I have a theory that the bots are set to make the price 20p more than the cheapest copy, but that two bots with the same rule then bid each other up to silly levels

      I just assumed it was scammers going for those with one-click ordering turned on. Misspent MMPORG youth....

  4. Bronek Kozicki


    .... yeah, tell me more. There is always someone who either 1) trained or 2) designed what is now being called "algorithm". The fact that this "someone" might be low on the pay scale is not an excuse, because someone hired him/her and gave the purpose to his/hers work. Really, there should be no committee needed to acknowledge the obvious.

  5. The Nazz

    Is this any different to the VW "scandal"?

    ie the singular use of software to circumvent, breach rules and sometimes legislation?

    If the US can fine VW billions then why doesn't it do the same with such cartels?

    Oh, is it because the leading culprits are USain themselves.

    I see. Trade, Increased revenue and profit. All that seems to matter these days.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My definition of artificial intelligence is something that makes choices independent of input.

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