Stories

Spam filters are efficient and uncontroversial. Until you look at them.

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An experiment reveals that Microsoft Outlook marks messages as spam on the basis of a single word, such as “Nigeria”. Spam filters are largely unaudited and could discriminate unfairly.

Automated discrimination: Facebook uses gross stereotypes to optimize ad delivery

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An experiment by AlgorithmWatch shows that online platforms optimize ad delivery in discriminatory ways. Advertisers who use them could be breaking the law.

In French daycare, algorithms attempt to fight cronyism

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In many cities, it is unclear whose children can hope for a place in a public daycare facility. Algorithms could make the allocation of places more transparent, but not all politicians are happy.

Female historians and male nurses do not exist, Google Translate tells its European users

An experiment shows that Google Translate systematically changes the gender of translations when they do not fit with stereotypes. It is all because of English, Google says…

In Italy, an appetite for face recognition in football stadiums

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Right before the pandemic, the government and top sports authorities were planning a massive deployment of face recognition and sound surveillance technologies in all Italian football stadiums. The re…

Suzhou introduced a new social scoring system, but it was too Orwellian, even for China

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By Qian Sun A city of 10 million in eastern China upgraded its Covid-tracking app to introduce a new “civility” score. It had to backtrack after a public outcry. Suzhou is a city with a population of…

For researchers, accessing data is one thing. Assessing its quality another.

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By Nicolas Kayser-Bril • kayser-bril@algorithmwatch.org • GPG Key Online platforms often provide data that is riddled with errors. Rather than launching quixotic attempts at fixing them, researchers i…

GPT-3 is a lot of fun, but no game-changer

op-ed

We usually do not write about newly-released software, especially when there is no way to audit it. But the hype over GPT-3, a natural language generator, was such that several readers asked for a rev…

Pre-crime at the tax office: How Poland automated the fight against VAT fraud.

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By Konrad Szczygieł This story is part of AlgorithmWatch’s upcoming report Automating Society 2020, to be published later this year. Subscribe to our newsletter to be alerted when the report is…

Under the Twitter streetlight: How data scarcity distorts research

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By Nicolas Kayser-Bril • kayser-bril@algorithmwatch.org • GPG Key As part of our #LeftOnRead campaign, several researchers testified to the reluctance of online platforms to provide useful data. Many…

Algorithmic grading is not an answer to the challenges of the pandemic

op-ed

By Graeme Tiffany Graeme Tiffany is a philosopher of education. He argues that replacing exams with algorithmic grading, as was done in Great Britain, exacerbates inequalities and fails to assess stud…

Spain’s largest bus terminal deployed live face recognition four years ago, but few noticed

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By Naiara Bellio López-Molina Madrid South Station’s face recognition system automatically matches every visitor’s face against a database of suspects, and shares information with the Spanish police.

In a quest to optimize welfare management, Denmark built a surveillance behemoth

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By Nicolas Kayser-Bril • kayser-bril@algorithmwatch.org • GPG Key This story is part of AlgorithmWatch’s upcoming report Automating Society 2020, to be published later this year. Subscribe to o…

Broken Horizon: In Greece, research in automation fails to find applications

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By Nikolas Leontopoulos This story is part of AlgorithmWatch’s upcoming report Automating Society 2020, to be published later this year. Subscribe to our newsletter to be alerted when the repor…

Swiss police automated crime predictions but has little to show for it

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A review of 3 automated systems in use by the Swiss police and judiciary reveals serious issues. Real-world effects are impossible to assess due to a lack of transparency.

Left on Read: How Facebook and others keep researchers in the dark

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Internet platforms routinely deny researchers access to data or arbitrarily accede to their requests, hampering social science in the process.

Slovenian police acquires automated tools first, legalizes them later

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The Slovenian police legalized its use of face recognition 5 years after it started to use it. Despite formal safeguards, no institution can restrain the Interior ministry.

Portugal: Automated verification of prescriptions helped crack down on medical fraud

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Portugal’s national health service introduced a centralized, automated system to verify medical prescriptions in 2016. One year later, it flagged 20 million euros’ worth of fraud.

Can AI mitigate the climate crisis? Not really.

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Several institutions claim that AI will contribute to solving the climate crisis, but evidence is scant. On the contrary, AI has a track record of helping emit more greenhouse gases.

Undress or fail: Instagram’s algorithm strong-arms users into showing skin

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An exclusive investigation reveals that Instagram prioritizes photos of scantily-clad men and women, shaping the behavior of content creators and the worldview of 140 millions Europeans in what remain…

Ten years on, search auto-complete still suggests slander and disinformation

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By Nicolas Kayser-Bril • kayser-bril@algorithmwatch.org • GPG Key After a decade and a string of legal actions, an AlgorithmWatch experiment shows that search engines still suggest slanderous, false a…

Estonia: A city is automating homes to reduce energy consumption

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The city of Tartu installed automated systems in old housing blocks. Using nudges, sensors and automated decision-making, it hopes to reduce energy consumption by two-thirds.

Automated moderation tool from Google rates People of Color and gays as “toxic”

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By Nicolas Kayser-Bril • nkb@algorithmwatch.org • GPG Key A systematic review of Google’s Perspective, a tool for automated content moderation, reveals that some adjectives are considered more toxic t…

Finland: How to unionize when your boss is an algorithm and you’re self-employed

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A group of Finnish couriers launched the Justice4Couriers campaign in 2018. Although they are technically self-employed, they must obey the whims of their platform’s algorithm. They are fighting back.

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