Government: Stop using discriminatory algorithms

In her Volkskrant opinion piece Nani Jansen Reventlow makes a forceful argument for the government to stop using algorithms that lead to discrimination and exclusion. Reventlow, director of the Digital Freedom Fund, employs a myriad of examples to show how disregarding the social nature of technological systems can lead to reproducing existing social injustices such as racism or discrimination. The automatic fraud detection system SyRI that was ruled in violation of fundamental rights (and its dangerous successor Super SyRI) is discussed, as well as the racist proctoring software we wrote about earlier.

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Uber-racist: Racial discrimination in dynamic pricing algorithms

Racial discrimination in dynamic pricing algorithms is neither surprising nor new. VentureBeat writes about another recent study that supports these findings, in the context of dynamic pricing algorithms used by ride-hailing companies such as Uber, Lyft and other apps. Neighbourhoods that were poorer and with larger non-white populations were significantly associated with higher fare prices. A similar issue was discovered in Airbnb’s ‘Smart Pricing’ feature which aims to help hosts secure more bookings. It turned out to be detrimental to black hosts leading to greater social inequality (even if unintentional).

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Are We Automating Racism?

Many of us assume that tech is neutral, and we have turned to tech as a way to root out racism, sexism, or other “isms” plaguing human decision-making. But as data-driven systems become a bigger and bigger part of our lives, we also notice more and more when they fail, and, more importantly, that they don’t fail on everyone equally. Glad You Asked host Joss Fong wants to know: Why do we think tech is neutral? How do algorithms become biased? And how can we fix these algorithms before they cause harm?

From YouTube on March 31, 2021

Human-in-the-loop is not the magic bullet to fix AI harms

In many discussions and policy proposals related to addressing and fixing the harms of AI and algorithmic decision-making, much attention and hope has been placed on human oversight as a solution. This article by Ben Green and Amba Kak urges us to question the limits of human oversight, rather than seeing it as a magic bullet. For example, calling for ‘meaningful’ oversight sounds better in theory than practice. Humans can also be prone to automation bias, struggle with evaluating and making decisions based on the results of the algorithm, or exhibit racial biases in response to algorithms. Consequentially, these effects can have racist outcomes. This has already been proven in areas such as policing and housing.

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Long overdue: Google has improved its camera app to work better for Black people

The following short video by Vox shows how white skin has always been the norm in photography. Black people didn’t start to look good on film until in the 1970s furniture makers complained to Kodak that their film didn’t render the difference between dark and light grained wood, and chocolate companies were upset that you couldn’t see the difference between dark and light chocolate.

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Sentenced by Algorithm

Computer programs used to predict recidivism and determine prison terms have a high error rate, a secret design, and a demonstrable racial bias.

By Jed S. Rakoff for The New York Review of Books on June 10, 2021

Racist and classist predictive policing exists in Europe too

The enduring idea that technology will be able to solve many of the existing problems in society continues to permeate across governments. For the EUObserver, Fieke Jansen and Sarah Chander illustrate some of the problematic and harmful uses of ‘predictive’ algorithmic systems by states and public authorities across the UK and Europe.

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Algorithmic discrimination in Europe : challenges and opportunities for gender equality and non-discrimination law.

This report investigates how algorithmic discrimination challenges the set of legal guarantees put in place in Europe to combat discrimination and ensure equal treatment. More specifically, it examines whether and how the current gender equality and non-discrimination legislative framework in place in the EU can adequately capture and redress algorithmic discrimination. It explores the gaps and weaknesses that emerge at both the EU and national levels from the interaction between, on the one hand, the specific types of discrimination that arise when algorithms are used in decision-making systems and, on the other, the particular material and personal scope of the existing legislative framework. This report also maps out the existing legal solutions, accompanying policy measures and good practice to address and redress algorithmic discrimination both at EU and national levels. Moreover, this report proposes its own integrated set of legal, knowledge-based and technological solutions to the problem of algorithmic discrimination.

By Janneke Gerards and Raphaële Xenidis for Publication Office of the European Union on March 10, 2021

Rotterdam’s use of algorithms could lead to ethnic profiling

The Rekenkamer Rotterdam (a Court of Audit) looked at how the city of Rotterdam is using predictive algorithms and whether that use could lead to ethical problems. In their report, they describe how the city lacks a proper overview of the algorithms that it is using, how there is no coordination and thus no one takes responsibility when things go wrong, and how sensitive data (like nationality) were not used by one particular fraud detection algorithm, but that so-called proxy variables for ethnicity – like low literacy, which might correlate with ethnicity – were still part of the calculations. According to the Rekenkamer this could lead to unfair treatment, or as we would call it: ethnic profiling.

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Gebruik algoritmes Rotterdam kan leiden tot vooringenomen uitkomsten

De gemeente Rotterdam maakt ter ondersteuning van haar besluitvorming gebruik van algoritmes. Hoewel er binnen de gemeente aandacht bestaat voor het ethisch gebruik van algoritmes, is het besef van de noodzaak hiervan nog niet heel wijdverbreid. Dit kan leiden tot weinig transparantie van algoritmes en vooringenomen uitkomsten, zoals bij een algoritme gericht op de bestrijding van uitkeringsfraude. Dit en meer concludeert de Rekenkamer Rotterdam in het rapport ‘Gekleurde technologie’.

From Rekenkamer Rotterdam on April 14, 2021

Online proctoring excludes and discriminates

The use of software to automatically detect cheating on online exams – online proctoring – has been the go-to solution for many schools and universities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, Shea Swauger addresses some of the potential discriminatory, privacy and security harms that can impact groups of students across class, gender, race, and disability lines. Swauger provides a critique on how technologies encode “normal” bodies – cisgender, white, able-bodied, neurotypical, male – as the standard and how students who do not (or cannot) conform, are punished by it.

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