The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) is an independent advisory body, led by a board of experts, set up and tasked by the UK Government to investigate and advise on how to maximise the benefits of data driven technologies. The UK Government is required to consider and respond publicly to CDEI recommendations. CDEI has recently launched a review into on-line targeting (i.e. the use of data driven technologies to target content, products and services to different individuals). Following a call for evidence in the spring the CDEI has now published an interim report of their finding on this topic. 

Background to the review

Explaining the purpose of the review CDEI noted that:

TARGETING IMPACTS THE INFORMATION PEOPLE SEE AND THE CHOICES THEY ARE GIVEN AT A TIME WHEN OUR LIVES ARE MOVING INCREASINGLY ONLINE. AND IT OFTEN AIMS TO INFLUENCE PEOPLE’S BEHAVIOUR …………… THIS CAN BE HIGHLY COMPELLING, AND IN SOME CASES MIGHT CROSS THE LIN(THE USE OF DATA DRIVEN TECHNOLOGIES TO TARGET CONTENT, PRODUCTS AND SERVICES TO DIFFERENT INDIVIDUALS)E BETWEEN LEGITIMATE PERSUASION AND ILLEGITIMATE MANIPULATION.

Interim findings

The interim report on this topic considers 3 key questions:

Public attitudes: Where is the use of technology out of line with public values, and what is the right balance of responsibility between individuals, companies and government?

CDEI’s early findings suggest that people’s attitudes towards targeting change when they understand more of how it works and how pervasive it is. While people recognise the benefits of online targeting, most agree that there are some forms of targeting which make them uncomfortable. In the next phase their work CDEI will explore public desire for additional protections, how these might work.

Regulation and governance: Are current regulatory mechanisms able to deliver their intended outcomes? How well do they align with public expectations? Is the use of targeting online consistent with principles applied through legislation and regulation offline?

CDEI notes that some features of online services impact the effectiveness of the market and the ability of individuals to adequately protect their own interests. Their initial areas of concern are:

  • the protection of vulnerable people
  • adverse impacts on trust in information (particularly media, advertising and political content) including the amplification of fake or misleading content, impact on social cohesion through the development of ‘filter bubbles’, and adverse impacts on people’s ability to make well-informed decisions as citizens and consumers.
  • adverse impacts on trust in markets: whilst online targeting may help people identify relevant products at the right price for them; if it isn’t possible to know whether the products and prices you are offered are different to those being offered to other people, this may reduce overall trust in – and the effectiveness of –online markets.
  • the need for protection against harmful discrimination

Solutions: What technical, legal or other mechanisms could help ensure that the use of online targeting is consistent with the law and public values? What combination of individual capabilities, market incentives and regulatory powers would best support this?

CDEI’s have identified four categories of intervention to explore in the next phase of their work:

  • Accountability and oversight, including: greater platform responsibility for content; transparency over how targeting algorithms are used, greater consumer control and independent research and information collection about the impacts.
  • More restrictive regulation of content distribution, restricting inferences that can be made and used in, or types and narrowness of, targeting; obligations to protect against vulnerability, requirements to default towards reliable or diverse sources of information and respond to concerns
  • Strengthening individual powers and information, including: stronger consent rules, greater transparency about information held, how it is used in targeting processes, and the sources of that information, improved access to recourse and redress,
  • Enhancing competition, including: identifying policies that would support the development of new business models such as third parties to manage individuals’ data on their behalf.

Next steps

CDEI expects to publish:

  • a summary of responses received later in the summer.
  • a report with the findings of our public dialogue on online targeting in the autumn; and
  • a final report with recommendations to the Government in December 2019

Click here to access the interim review.