NEWS6 February 2020

Tech platforms should be required to share data, says CDEI

AI Data analytics News Public Sector Technology UK

UK – The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has called for social media companies to be compelled to share their data with independent researchers to inform government policy on the effects of online targeting.

Social media users smartphone mobile_crop

The advisory body’s review of data-led online targeting has recommended that the government’s new online harms regulator should have regulatory oversight of targeting, including the power to give independent experts access to platforms’ data in order to conduct audits.

Platforms should also be required to allow researchers to access data securely where necessary for researching issues of ‘significant potential importance to public policy’, including the link between social media use and mental health, the impacts of targeting on democracy, and the extent to which targeted advertising leads to discrimination. 

The report found that most people understand the convenience of online targeting but there is increased support from the public for greater oversight of targeting practices.

Public attitudes research conducted by the CDEI found that 54% of respondents found online ad personalisation ‘acceptable’ and 68% thought it was ‘acceptable’ to be shown recommended music in apps. However, the majority of participants wanted changes to be made to how online targeting systems are used and governed, and 61% supported regulation.  

The body is the latest to urge for greater regulation over tech firms. Last month, a report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists called for companies to be compelled to hand over their data for the purposes of research into the harms of social media use for children and young people.

Roger Taylor, chair of the CDEI, said in the report: "Our starting point was to understand public attitudes. What we found was an appreciation of the value of targeting but deep concern about the potential for people’s vulnerabilities to be exploited; an expectation that organisations using targeting systems should be held to account for harm they cause; and a desire to be able to exercise more control over the way they are targeted. Most people do not want targeting stopped. But they do want to know that it is being done safely and ethically. And they want more control."