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UK watchdogs to scrutinise widespread use of algorithms

The effort will be a collaboration between the CMA, FCA, ICO, and Ofcom

UK regulators preparing to launch an investigation into the use of algorithms on apps and sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Netflix to assess their affects on online safety and innovation.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and Ofcom are seeking input on auditing algorithms, the current landscape, and the role of regulators, they announced on Thursday in a new call for comment.

The announcement comes as the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF), which is formed by the four organisations, outlined priorities for the upcoming 18 months. These include tackling challenges such as children’s e-safety, the use of data in digital advertising, algorithmic transparency, as well as enabling innovation.

Commenting on the decision, DRCF chief executive Gill Whitehead described the projects for 2022 and 2023 as “significant”.

However, she added that the collaboration between the UK’s main watchdogs will help the DCRF “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,” she added.

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A 2020 study conducted by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, in the aftermath of the A-levels results scandal found that more than half (53%) of UK adults didn’t trust computer algorithms to make decisions on issues ranging from welfare to education.

Speaking today on behalf of the algorithms project team, CMA chief data and technology insight officer Stefan Hunt said that there is more work to be done on the subject of algorithms.

“We’re asking now, what more is needed, including from us as regulators and also from industry?” he said.

Comments can be submitted to the DRCF@ofcom.org.uk email address until Wednesday, 8 June 2022.

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