US Senators Introduce Algorithmic Accountability Act to Fight Perceived Bias in Tech

TL;DR: Algorithmic Accountability Act of 2019 was recently introduced in the United States Senate by Cory Booker from New Jersey (who is also running for president) and Oregon’s Ron Wyden, both Democrats. It would “direct the Federal Trade Commission [(FTC)] to require entities that use, store, or share personal information to conduct automated decision system impact assessments and data protection impact assessments,” according to the proposed 15 page bill, which seeks to push back against larger companies perceived as biased and invasive when it comes to interacting with their users and customers.   

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US Senators Introduce Algorithmic Accountability Act

“The term ‘covered entity’ means any person, partnership, or corporation,” the proposed bill reads, “over which the Commission has jurisdiction under […] had greater than $50,000,000 in average annual gross receipts for the 3-taxable-year period preceding the most recent fiscal year […] possesses or controls personal information on more than— 1,000,000 consumers; or 1,000,000 consumer devices,” would essentially be subject to a new bias provision monitored by the FTC.

The legalese appears to translate into a shot at larger tech companies employing use of algos involving facial recognition, for example, which lawmakers believe could be weaponized toward bias. Part of such companies using these tools, then, would involve checking for prejudice and discrimination, which can often come at the cost of both security and privacy for the supposed marginalized users or customers.

Facebook has come under fire several times regarding such concerns, culminating in a lawsuit from the Department of Housing and Urban Development about the social media giant allowing real estate and housing advertisements to target by race. Indeed, a recent study out of Cornell University claims “both the advertiser’s budget and the content of the ad each significantly contribute to the skew of Facebook’s ad delivery. Critically, we observe significant skew in delivery along gender and racial lines for ‘real’ ads for employment and housing opportunities despite neutral targeting parameters.”

Senator Wyden explained how “computers are increasingly involved in the most important decisions affecting Americans’ lives — whether or not someone can buy a home, get a job or even go to jail. But instead of eliminating bias, too often these algorithms depend on biased assumptions or data that can actually reinforce discrimination against women and people of color.”

DISCLOSURE: The author holds cryptocurrency as part of his financial portfolio, including BCH. 

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