The German chancellor said internet users had a right to know how and on what basis the information they received via search engines was channelled to them.
Speaking at a media conference in Munich, Merkel said: “I’m of the opinion that algorithms must be made more transparent so that one can inform oneself as an interested citizen about questions like ‘what influences my behaviour on the internet and that of others?’.
“Algorithms, when they are not transparent, can lead to a distortion of our perception, they can shrink our expanse of information.”
An algorithm is a formula used by a search engine to steer a request for information. They are different for every search engine, highly secret and determine the significance or ranking of a web page.
Merkel has joined a growing number of critics who have highlighted the dangers of receiving information that confirms an existing opinion or is recommended by people with similar ideas.
“This is a development that we need to pay careful attention to,” she told the conference, adding that a healthy democracy was dependent on people being confronted by opposing ideas.
“The big internet platforms, through their algorithms, have become an eye of a needle which diverse media must pass through [to access their users],” she said.
There has been increasing concern about so-called filter bubbles and echo chambers – the result of an internet search in which an algorithm supposes the information someone would like to see based on previous searches, as well as information it might have about their location or preferences.