Who controls the algorithms?
In cooperation with the Faculty of Law
It is impossible to surf the internet without being exposed to algorithms, semi-autonomous programs and robots that shape the information that we are exposed to. Algorithms compile our search results and our Facebook feed. They help political parties to target particular voters. They try to find out what is the next item we are planning to buy, and what is the most we are willing to pay for it. But who controls the algorithms?
Despite algorithms being everywhere and despite the fact that they play such a central role in our digital life, we know very little about them. We don’t know how they work, we don’t know what they hide from us, we don’t know what they show to our neighbors, and we don’t know what effect they have on society. While algorithms control our digital information environment, we just now start to think about how we can control them.
The Personalized Communications project is a research priority area at the UvA. It aims to measure the impact of the online algorithms on our individual life and our societies, and assesses the findings from a normative, legal and policy perspective. What is the role of algorithmic recommenders in a democratic society? Is there a need for regulation? How can we stay in control of our algorithmic agents? What should we, and what shouldn’t we try to regulate? And how can we regulate?
After short presentations of each of the speakers, we'll discuss some of the early findings of the Personalized Communications project and, with the help of a representative of the ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap (OCW), we’ll discuss what the state can, and cannot do when it tries to regulate our algorithmic overlords.
About the speakers
Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius is a researcher at the IViR Institute for Information Law of the University of Amsterdam. His research interests include data protection law, profiling, privacy, freedom of expression, discrimination, and media law. He has published widely on such topics. He regularly presents at national and international conferences, and has presented at the Dutch and the European Parliament.
Sanne Kruikemeier is a part-time postdoctoral researcher within the personalised communication project focussing on e-commerce. She is also an assistant professor Political Communication at the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) at the University van Amsterdam. Between 2011 and 2014, she wrote a dissertation about online political communication and its effects on citizens’ political involvement.
Sarah Eskens, LLM, is a PhD Candidate at the Institute for Information Law (IViR). She studies how news personalization affects the fundamental information and privacy rights of news consumers. The main question of Sarah's research is how, in a personalized news environment, European privacy and data protection law could protect news consumers' right to receive information. Sarah’s research is part of the project 'Profiling and targeting news readers – implications for the democratic role of the digital media, user rights and public information policy' led by professor Natali Helberger.
Marleen Elshof is Senior Policy Advisor Media & Creative Industry at the Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap (OCW).
Balázs Bodó (moderator) is a socio-legal researcher at the Institute for Information Law (IViR), University of Amsterdam. His work explores the social and legal construction of Internet technologies. In his research he explores the role that emerging social practices of media production, distribution and consumption play in the wider cultural ecosystem.
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