Algorithmic Accountability Act…..

Algorithmic Accountability Act

Finally, something to speak about other than the Mueller Report in politics……

US lawmakers have introduced a new bill to hold giant Internet companies (over $50mm in annual revenue) responsible for their content and authorises the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to have oversight over them. This bill which is a first at the Federal level in the US follows similar actions of governments across the world.

In salient terms, the bill will require large companies to audit machine learning systems (like facial recognition or ad targeting algorithms) for bias, accuracy and fairness. The bill called ‘Algorithmic Accountability Act’ is sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). The bill gives the FTC authority to create rules for evaluating automated systems of these companies and requires it to set the frequency at which it should be done. But the most noteworthy feature of the bill is that it requires these internet and social media companies using machine learning and artificial intelligence tools (‘algorithms’) to self-assess/audit whether the algorithms are biased or discriminatory and in addition also asks them to self-evaluate for the privacy, and security risk they create for the consumers.

There are lots of reason to be skeptical and ask the obvious question whether self-accountability will ever work with these Internet companies? However this is a step in the right direction as the bill recognizes the enormous task in creating a government infrastructure to do this audit and is fair in giving a first chance to these companies to self-police. The bill does set the guidelines for these audits and requires the following factors to be included in the self-assessment;

  • data minimization techniques used
  • transparency about the algorithm available to consumers
  • amount and duration for which the personal information of consumers is stored
  • extent to which consumers  have access to the results of these algorithms and extent to which they may correct or object to its results

The bill also requires companies to perform an assessment of the privacy and security risks posed by the algorithms to consumers and the potential that the algorithms could contribute to inaccurate, unfair, biased, or discriminatory decisions  impacting consumers.

This is a commendable effort largely due to the fact that this accountability is long overdue given how pervasive these algorithms have become in our everyday life and so the bill is a much needed step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the timing of the bill stinks as the Mueller report will suck whatever remaining bi-partisan air is remaining in both the Hose and Senate.

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