Crime and Justice Research Centre Member Dr Monique Mann, along with QUT Law Professor Matthew Rimmer, spoke to Renegade Inc about the issue of algorithmic transparency in online censorship and the regulation of automated decision-making by technology giants.
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——————————————————————————————————————–Dr Monique Mann, researcher at Queensland University of Technology’s Crime and Justice Research Centre, and Director of Australian Privacy Foundation told Renegade Inc that these issues of censorship relate to broader issues around bias in computer systems.
“These decisions aren’t being made by formal enforcement bodies, or any kind of body with authorised legal powers,” she said. “This process is occurring by transnational companies and platforms, these tech giants are acting like big regulators.”
Dr Mann says these instances of censorship by algorithm raises questions over trade secrets and proprietary rights.
“These trade secrets and algorithms are how they operate,” she said. “But they introduce additional challenges and barriers to transparency and accountability of algorithms, themselves protected under international property law.”
Hypothetically Google is applying a colour-blind algorithm. Dr Mann says the question is over what happens when algorithms are built by “digital duopolies” to match societal expectations.
“Google is deciding what is an acceptable story, and what is unacceptable, whose views and voices are preferenced, and whose are silenced,” she said. “There is no transparency and accountability. These companies are protected by very serious financial investments and fields of law.”
Dr Monique Mann told Renegade Inc that there has been a suggestion that some tweets made by President Trump violate Twitter’s terms of service, because they contain hate-speech that targets certain groups and minority populations: particularly Muslims and the LGBTQI community given his recent attempt to enact a Muslim ban and deny health care to LGBTQI servicemen, women and those who identify as neither, or have them thrown out of the service altogether.
“But are Twitter likely to block Trump for violating its terms of service?,” she asked. “These are all very loaded and difficult decisions around what constitutes hate speech vs political expression. These are very contested issues and I do not think there are any easy answers here.”
A battle for the heart and soul of the web
Dr Matthew Rimmer, Professor of IP and Innovation Law and Queensland University of Technology told Renegade Inc that how these companies manage information is becoming increasingly important.
“Their duties and responsibilities are becoming quite significant,” he said. “There is a battle for the heart and soul of the internet in many ways.”
“Tim Berners Lee, (computer scientist and inventor of the World Wide Web), commented recently that the open system he helped create has come under threat from various corporate players who have enacted site blocking and surveillance. He said it is important to address the balance away from big IT companies and other corporations and national governments. He wants to recover the emancipatory potential of the internet and World Wide Web. There are some larger questions involved in terms of the future evolution of the regime.”
Dr Mann said that automation through algorithm is ‘falling into a trap’ that is not going to find us any easy answers.
“These processes and the way they operate create a range of additional problems,” she said. “I don’t think technology in this situation is going to be the panacea for social issues.”
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