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Watchdogs call for views on regulating use of algorithms


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Image source: Brozhinsky

A group of watchdog organisations have called for views on what is needed in the regulation of the use of algorithms.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Financial Conduct Authority, Information Commissioner’s Office and Ofcom have taken the step through the Digital Regulation Co-operation Forum (DRCF), which has published two papers on algrorithms with a call for comments.

Speaking on behalf of the algorithms project team, Stefan Hunt, CMA chief data and technology insight officer, said: “Much work has already been done on algorithms by the CMA, FCA, ICO and Ofcom but there is more to do. We’re asking now, what more is needed, including from us as regulators and also from industry?”

The DRFC has published a policy paper setting out six common areas of focus for its members, including transparency, fairness, access to information, resilience of infrastructure, individual autonomy and healthy competition. 

It then outlines the current and potential harms and some of the benefits of algorithmic processing, explores possible roles for UK regulators, the DRCF in particular, and makes suggestions for future work.

Among the possibilities it floats for its own role are to support the development of algorithmic assessment practices, help organisations communicate to consumers how systems are being used, and engage with researchers in the field of human-interaction, dealing with issues such as automation bias.

Auditing issues

A second policy paper covers the auditing of algorithms, pointing out that in some fields there are no rules and standards on the issue and it is unclear how auditors can provide assurance. It says that regulators could play a significant role in dealing with this through steps such as providing accreditation for auditors and ensuring action is taken when an audit identifies harms.

The DRFC has also published a workplan for 2022-23 including projects on issues such as protecting children online and supporting improvements in algorithmic transparency; and published its annual report.

Gill Whitehead, DRCF chief executive, said: “The task ahead is significant - but by working together as regulators and in close co-operation with others, we intend for the DRCF to make an important contribution to the UK’s digital landscape to the benefit of people and businesses online.

“Just one of those areas is algorithms. Whether you’re scrolling on social media, flicking through films or deciding on dinner, algorithms are busy but hidden in the background of our digital lives.

“That’s good news for a lot of us a lot of the time, but there’s also a problematic side to algorithms. They can be manipulated to cause harm or misused because firms plugging them into websites and apps simply don’t understand them well enough. As regulators, we need to make sure the benefits win out.”




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