Tomorrow, the House of Lords Communications Committee will publish a report calling for a new overarching regulatory framework so that digital services are held accountable to an enforceable set of shared principles.
The report states that big tech companies are not doing a good enough job of protecting consumers – and that it’s time for the regulators to step in, implementing a single set of principles to govern digital services.
In response, please see comment below from Dr Iain Brown, Head of Data Science at SAS and fellow of Southampton University, on why an ethical framework for data is essential – and what practical steps the Lords should pursue to make it happen.
Dr Iain Brown, Head of Data Science at SAS UK & Ireland:
“The Lords Committee is absolutely right that there needs to be a single framework governing the way consumer data is treated. An ethical approach to technology is definitely possible – the question is whether the tech giants want to work that way, and to what extent governments can require it of them. The future is being built by artificial intelligence – now’s the time for regulators to look at ways of embedding ethical practices into the way it’s used in the market.
“A framework that many organisations (including SAS) are already following focuses on four key principles: fairness, accountability, transparency and explainability (or FATE for short).
“One of the outcomes from this approach is that AI operates without bias – or any bias that does exist can be identified and removed. This also requires having a sufficient number of people feeding into decision-making processes from the start.
“There needs to be clear chains of accountability to ensure privacy is taken seriously. Organisations need to be open and honest about how customer data is used. And they need to be able to demonstrate clearly why customers get the treatment they do – it’s not ok to just take decisions based on a black-box automated system. [Isn’t a lot of this already covered by GDPR?]
“There’s no getting away from the fact that AI-enabled technology is going to change the way people interact with businesses in the UK over the coming years. We live in the digital age and our data is our most valuable asset. But it’s not just the data that needs to be handled correctly, but how decisions are made using that data. It’s right and proper to demand it be treated ethically. The challenge of course is everyone’s view of what’s “ethical” is likely to differ so there are challenges in creating rules or a framework for all organisations to follow.
“But as our lives move increasingly online, companies should treat our data (and decisions using that data) like any other personal possession – with care and respect.”