Letter: Big Tech Auditors Need Access to Algorithms

Frederick Mostert and Alex Urbelis advocate for more transparency on how the algorithms that determine what we are shown online work (“Social Media Platforms Must Ditch Algorithmic Secrecy,” Special Report, June 17).

The EU is currently discussing how to proceed, through its flagship big tech legislation, the proposed digital services law. If passed, the bill will force very large online platforms such as Google and Facebook to provide auditors appointed by the European Commission with “explanations” of their algorithms, and answer questions about them. It is only in the event that these platforms fail to meet their obligations that the commission will have the power to order the platforms to effectively provide access to their algorithms.

Such control will not work. It is absurd to think that financial auditors could check a company’s books by asking questions about its finances rather than seeing the numbers themselves.

Big Tech auditors should do the same: have access to the algorithm used, the data they have been trained on and what they are designed to optimize, as well as to test their behavior.

But while the EU is at least taking steps in the right direction, the UK is lagging behind, with the Online Security Bill squashing the opportunity to tackle algorithmic damage.

Rosie Sharpe
Global witness
Copenhagen, Denmark

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