Government data ethics body urges revamp of social media regulation

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 6 February 2020 in News

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has claimed that ‘current mechanisms are inadequate’

Credit: Pixabay

The UK government should overhaul the regulation of social media companies to provide greater control over how users are targeted by digital content, according to the government’s independent advisors on data-driven technology.

In a new report, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation found that online targeting systems, which are used to promote content in social media feeds, recommend videos, target adverts, and personalise search engine results, will continue to grow in sophistication, while being used in new ways and for new purposes.

It warned that targeting systems “too often operate without sufficient transparency and accountability”, and that their use currently falls short of the OECD human-centred principles on AI, which set standards for the ethical use of technology.

Related content

It says: “Online targeting has been blamed for a number of harms. These include the erosion of autonomy and the exploitation of people’s vulnerabilities; potentially undermining democracy and society; and increased discrimination. The evidence for these claims is contested, but they have become prominent in public debate about the role of the internet and social media in society. Online targeting has helped to put a handful of global online platform businesses in positions of enormous power to predict and influence behaviour. However, current mechanisms to hold them to account are inadequate.”

The report also describes the operation and impact of online targeting systems as “opaque”, and although research suggests the public do not want targeting to be stopped, they support higher standards of accountability and transparency in the technology’s use.

Writing in the foreword, the centre’s chair, Roger Taylor, said: “In making our recommendations we are proposing actions that kickstart the process of working out how public expectations can best be met. Some of it requires greater regulation – and that requires systemic and coordinated approaches that focus first on the areas of greatest concern – such as the impact of social media on mental health.”

He added: “The world will be looking at the UK’s approach and it is vital that new internet regulation protects human rights such as freedom of expression and privacy. But it also requires innovation: innovation in the way that we regulate and innovation in the way the targeting systems are built and operated.

“Our recommendations are designed to encourage both. By emphasising the need for a regulator to have powers to investigate how targeting systems operate, we recognise that better understanding will lead to more effective and proportionate regulation.”


About the author

Liam Kirkaldy is online editor at PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood, where this story first appeared. He tweets as @HolyroodLiam.


Share this page




Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Related Articles

Civil servants asked to share government gripes
23 July 2020

Ahead of technology- and data-led reforms, officials have been invited to vent their frustrations with how Whitehall works

Downing St assembles data science A-team
14 July 2020

Dominic Cummings’ ambitions realised as prime minister’s office seeks to recruit crack squad of data scientists for No. 10 skunkworks

How Bradford Council has worked to keep tourism alive with virtual visits
31 July 2020

Ahead of Yorkshire Day tomorrow – and as the city re-enters localised restrictions – we hear from the authority’s VisitBradford tourism chief Rachel Oxborough about how it has used online...

Inside DWP’s digital coronavirus response – APIs, reuse and micro-services
28 July 2020

In the face of huge demand for its services, the DWP was able to call on a library of reusable tools, the department’s integration lead Jacqui Leggetter tells PublicTechnology