Digital regulators pledge to ‘take a closer look at algorithms’ this year
Four watchdogs join forces to seek views on the use of automated processes by apps and websites
The four UK regulators that play a role in overseeing digital services and data have collectively pledged to this year increase their focus on the use of algorithms – and the “significant risks” to society they present.
The Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF) brings together the Competition and Markets Authority, Financial Conduct Authority, Ofcom, and the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The forum has published its annual report and a workplan for the 2022/23 financial year. A key strand of its work in the year ahead will be “supporting improvements in algorithmic transparency”. The topic forms the basis of two newly published papers from the DRCF, on which it is now inviting feedback.
Launching a public call for “views on the benefits and risks of how sites and apps use algorithm”, the forum noted that “algorithmic processing is commonplace and often beneficial”.
“However, algorithmic systems… pose significant risks, if used without due care,” it added. “They can introduce or amplify harmful biases that lead to discriminatory decisions or unfair outcomes that reinforce inequalities. They can be used to mislead consumers and distort competition. Regulators need to work together to articulate the nature and severity of these risks and take measures to mitigate them. That’s how they can help empower the development and deployment of algorithmic processing systems in safe, responsible ways that are pro-innovation and pro-consumer.”
Anyone who wishes to submit their view on the use of algorithms has until 8 June to do so. Submissions can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Competition and Markets Authority last year launched an Analysing Algorithms programme to "understand and interrogate" the use of automated computer processes, both in areas that are currently part of the consumer regulator's purview, and in those that might emerge in the future. To lead its work in this area, the CMA earlier this year opened recruitment on a £100,000-a-year role as director of algorithm assessment and technology insight.
“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,” said DRCF chief executive Gill Whitehead. “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.”
Other priority areas identified in the forum’s plan for the year ahead include: protecting children online; promoting competition and privacy in online advertising; and enabling responsible industry innovation.