UK digital watchdogs take a closer look at algorithms as plans are set for the year ahead

  • The Digital Regulatory Cooperation Forum calls for opinions on the benefits and risks of how sites and apps use algorithms
  • Also seeks feedback on audit algorithms, the current landscape and the role of regulators
  • Defined work plan for the coming year, including child online protection

This “algorithmic processing” is common and often beneficial, underpinning many of the products and services we use in daily life. From detecting fraudulent activity in financial services, connecting us with friends online, to translating languages ​​with the click of a button, these systems have become an essential part of modern society.

However, algorithmic systems, especially modern machine learning (ML) or artificial intelligence (AI) approaches, pose significant risks if used carelessly. 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 must work together to articulate the nature and severity of these risks and take steps to mitigate them. This is how they can help strengthen the development and deployment of algorithmic processing systems in a safe and responsible manner that is favorable to innovation and the consumer.

The four digital watchdogs – the Competition and Markets Authority, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office and Ofcom – are today asking for their views on what regulators need more and where the industry should step up its efforts.

The four organizations work together through the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF), which today publishes its annual report, its work plan for the coming year and two papers on algorithms with a call for comments.

The DRCF work plan for 2022/23 includes projects that will help address some of our biggest digital challenges, including:

  • Protecting children online – improving outcomes for children and parents by ensuring the privacy and online security protections overseen by the ICO and Ofcom work in unison.

  • Promoting competition and privacy in online advertising – fostering competitive online advertising markets that bring innovation and economic growth, while respecting consumer rights and data protection, through joint work by the ICO and the CMA.

  • Support Algorithmic Transparency Improvements – support the use of algorithmic processing to promote its benefits and mitigate risks to people and competition, exploring ways to improve algorithmic transparency and auditing.

  • Enable innovation in the industries we regulate – encourage responsible innovation and explore different models for coordinating our work with industry to support innovation.

Gill Whitehead, Managing Director of DRCF, said:

The task ahead of us is significant – but working together as regulators and in close cooperation with others, we want the DRCF to make a significant contribution to the UK’s digital landscape for the benefit of people and businesses online. .

Algorithms are just one of these areas. Whether you’re browsing social media, flipping through movies, or deciding on dinner, algorithms are busy but hidden in the background of our digital lives.

This is good news for many of us most of the time, but there is also a problematic side to algorithms. They can be manipulated to cause harm or misused because the companies that plug them into websites and apps simply don’t understand them well enough. As regulators, we need to ensure that the benefits outweigh.

Speaking on behalf of the algorithm project team, Stefan Hunt, CMA’s Chief Data and Technology Insight Officer, said:

Much work has already been done on the algorithms by the CMA, FCA, ICO and Ofcom, but there is still a lot to do.

We are now asking, what more is needed, including from us as regulators and also from the industry?

Today marks an opportunity for anyone involved in or having an opinion on the use of algorithms to have their say, in particular on how we might move to an effective and proportionate audit approach to help to ensure that they are used safely. The possibility of offering views is open until Wednesday, June 8, 2022.

We invite feedback and discussion on DRCF’s work plan and priorities for the coming year. These should be submitted to [email protected]

More information can be found on the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum case page.

About Nicole Harmon

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