A study by the state media authorities on the implementation of the new transparency requirements from the Media State Treaty (MStV) for large online platforms shows a considerable need for improvement. Accordingly, relevant information on how search engines or video portals work is often difficult to find. There is also a lack of comprehensibility of the explanations.
According to the legal transparency requirements, users must be able to understand why certain content is displayed on result pages. For example, the criteria that decide whether content is accessed by an online intermediary and whether it remains there must be specified. Operators must also provide information about aspects of aggregation, selection and presentation of content and their weighting, including information about how the algorithms used work in easy-to-understand language.
Transparency information difficult to find and misleading
The media authorities in Germany had 3,000 representatively selected users surveyed online. Part of the research published on Monday included field tests based on the online presence of three major US platforms. When it came to finding the transparency information, Google still performed best in comparison. 29 percent of the participants found the explanations via a drop-down menu with the first or second click. However, 71 percent did not discover them even on the second attempt. Dependencies also become apparent: 21 percent would do without their own activities completely and would do their research via Google search.
The correct link “How does YouTube work?” find only eleven percent of the few or non-users on the video portal. 80 percent of the users do not discover the link even on the second attempt. On Instagram, it took six clicks to get to the transparency information. Only four percent of respondents managed to do this without clicking twice in the wrong place on at least one of the pages.
The test results are reflected in the subjective assessment of the findability of the transparency information: almost three-quarters of Instagram users more or less agreed that it was difficult to find and that it takes a long time to get to the relevant page. On the other hand, the design of the link based on characteristics such as placement, size and recognisability was rated best by the participants on Google.
When it comes to the comprehensibility of the explanations of how it works, the three online offers also come off very differently. 20 percent of those surveyed attested the least clarity to the two relevant Google texts. Regarding the ranking of the hits in the search engine result lists, 46 percent would like “further information on why certain content on the platform is selected for me”. At 41 percent, onliners rated the information on Instagram as the most understandable.
With a share of 32 percent, YouTube is in the middle here. The states had taken their time with the details of the transparency criteria, it was said at a symposium of the directors’ conference of the state media authorities (DLM) in March. The big providers have in the meantime done a lot here, so the tenor. None of them fully satisfied the position of the federal states at the time.
Lawful implementation required
“In the last few months we have informed the media intermediaries about the new legal situation and talked about the specific structure,” warned Thorsten Schmiege, President of the Bavarian State Center for New Media (BLM), now based on the study results. “Now we expect all providers to promptly provide corresponding signs of the legally compliant implementation of the transparency rules.”
DLM chairman Wolfgang Kreissig pointed out that more than 80 percent of those questioned were interested in information on how the mediators functioned. The implementation of the guidelines must therefore be improved “also to protect a transparent democratic opinion-forming process”. Especially on their mobile offers, the operators should go a step further in terms of transparency, demanded Eva-Maria Sommer, Director of the Hamburg/Schleswig Holstein Media Authority (MA HSH). The “existing expertise in the development of customer-friendly offers” should also be used to transparently educate users.
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