Nicolas Kayser-Bril

Reporter

Photo: Julia Bornkessel, CC BY 4.0

Nicolas is data journalist and working for AlgorithmWatch as a reporter. He pioneered new forms of journalism in France and in Europe and is one of the leading experts on data journalism. He regularly speaks at international conferences, teaches journalism in French journalism schools and gives training sessions in newsrooms. A self-taught journalist and developer (and a graduate in Economics), he started by doing small interactive, data-driven applications for Le Monde in Paris in 2009. He then built the data journalism team at OWNI in 2010 before co-founding and managed Journalism++ from 2011 to 2017. Nicolas is also one of the main contributors to the Datajournalism Handbook, the reference book for the popularization of data journalism worldwide.

Articles for AlgoritmWatch

Jill Robidoux | flickrCC BY 2.0

Annual review 2021, 27 December 2021

The year that was not saved by automated systems – 2021 in review

A climate catastrophe in Germany and the revelations of the Facebook Files had one thing in common: the humans in the loop failed to take the right decisions. 2021 was not the year algorithms were reined in, but 2022 might be.

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CC-BY-NC European Council

Story, 23 November 2021

European Council and Commission in agreement to narrow the scope of the AI Act

The European Council, which represents Member States, is pushing for a “narrow” definition of AI, which would dramatically water down the AI Act. The European Commission seems to be in agreement.

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Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash

Story, 16 November 2021

Facebook goes after the creator of InstaPy, a tool that automates Instagram likes

Facebook sent a cease-and-desist letter to Tim Grossmann, the creator of InstaPy, and blocked his accounts – and those of his start-up – on the platform.

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Marine National Park
Photo by Hugo Vidal on Unsplash

Story, 2 November 2021

National parks near Marseilles deploy automated, live video surveillance against poachers

Two national parks in southern France want to automate the detection of poachers, but the efficacy of these systems remains unclear.

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CC BY SA West Midlands Police

Story, 1 October 2021

An English police force created its own ethics committee and it’s totally not ethics washing, they say.

The West Midlands police force, which controls 2.9 million persons around Birmingham, created its own independent ethics committee in 2019. Despite its work and its transparency, critics are not convinced that it is a solid enough counterweight.

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Story, 22 September 2021

YouTube cleaned its ‘news’ section… with content from Axel Springer

First findings of a data donation experiment by AlgorithmWatch show that Die Welt, a conservative news outlet from the German media conglomerate Axel Springer, dominates the news section.

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Felix Hunger/SZ

Story, 15 September 2021

Instagram algorithm: Süddeutsche publishes results of data analysis

Using thousands of data donations from AlgorithmWatch’s Instagram monitoring browser plug-in, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung showed that posts from the far-right appear higher on users’ timelines.

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Photo by Souvik Banerjee on Unsplash

Story, 31 August 2021

LinkedIn automatically rates “out-of-country” candidates as “not fit” in job applications

A feature on LinkedIn automatically rates candidates applying from another EU country as “not a fit”, which may be illegal. I asked 6 national and European agencies about the issue. None seemed interested in enforcing the law.

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YummyBuum / TarikVision / Igor | Adobe Stock

Story, 23 August 2021

How Big Tech Charms and Bullies European Politicians, Journalists and Academics

Google, Facebook and other very large tech companies built a lobbying system that, under the guise of furthering research or journalism, binds intellectuals in a complex network of patronage. Transparency is long overdue.

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Sara Kurfeß Unsplash

Position, 17 August 2021

Twitter’s algorithmic bias bug bounty could be the way forward, if regulators step in

Twitter opened its image cropping algorithm and gave prizes to people who could find biases in it. While interesting in itself, the program mostly reveals the impotence of regulators.

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Erwin Voortman | Unsplash

Position, 27 May 2021

EU Commission asks foxes to stop eating chickens but does not build fence

The European Commission published a "Guidance on Strengthening the Code of Practice on Disinformation" aimed at large tech companies on Wednesday. The wish-list of measures forgoes any enforcement mechanism.

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Arnel Hasanovic | Unsplash

Story, 14 May 2021

Image classification algorithms at Apple, Google still push racist tropes

Automated systems from Apple and Google label characters with dark skins “Animals”.

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Fraktion DIE LINKE |Flickr.com

Story, 6 April 2021

Europeans can’t talk about racist AI systems. They lack the words.

In Europe, several automated systems, either planned or operational, actively contribute to entrenching racism. But European civil society literally lacks the words to address the issue.

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Icons8 | Unsplash

Story, 29 March 2021

Automated translation is hopelessly sexist, but don’t blame the algorithm or the training data

Automated translation services tend to erase women or reduce them to stereotypes. Simply tweaking the training data or the models is not enough to make translations fair.

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Roel Wijnants |flickr

Story, 3 March 2021

Politicians can do well on Instagram. Political posts, less so.

An experiment by AlgorithmWatch, Groene Amsterdammer, Pointer and NOS in the Netherlands shows that Instagram probably prioritizes images of faces and pushes down images that contain text.

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Piero Nigro | Unsplash

Story, 25 February 2021

In Berlin, Google Maps and TomTom encourage car drivers to disregard the law

Routing services from TomTom and Google Maps encourage car drivers to use cycle streets, which is illegal. Both companies said they would update their databases, but this is unlikely to completely solve the problem.

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Story, 1 February 2021

The Insta-mafia: How crooks mass-report users for profit

Groups of teenagers use weaknesses in the notification systems of Facebook and Instagram to take over accounts and harass users. The upcoming DSA regulation addresses the issue but is likely to fall short.

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Story, 19 January 2021

Medical devices using AI/ML are poorly regulated: study

A review of 338 AI-powered medical devices approved in Europe and in the United States reveals holes in the European review process.

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Hartwig HKD | Flickr

Blog, 28 December 2020

The year algorithms escaped quarantine: 2020 in review

Amid the Covid pandemic, governments and corporations stepped up the deployments of automated systems. Civil society initiatives attempted to keep some of them in check.

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foodwatch | Flickr

Story, 14 December 2020

Despite transparency, the Nutri-Score algorithm faces strong resistance

The Nutri-Score summarizes basic nutritional information on a 5-letter scale. Despite its many qualities, it faces a strong backlash that could hold a lesson for operators of automated systems.

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Wynand van Poortvliet | Unsplash

Story, 25 November 2020

Dutch city uses algorithm to assess home value, but has no idea how it works

In a seemingly routine case at the Amsterdam court of appeal, a judge ruled that it was acceptable for a municipality to use a black-box algorithm, as long as the results were unsurprising.

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the blowup |Unsplash

Story, 22 October 2020

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

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.

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Joshua Hoehne | Unsplash

Story, 18 October 2020

Automated discrimination: Facebook uses gross stereotypes to optimize ad delivery

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

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Jon Russell |flickr

Story, 17 September 2020

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

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Publication, 1 September 2020

France

New report: 'Automated Decision-Making Systems in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A European Perspective' by AlgorithmWatch and Bertelsmann Stiftung – a special issue of the upcoming Automating Society Report 2020, to be published in October.

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Jilbert Ebrahimi|Unsplash

Story, 25 August 2020

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

Online platforms often provide data that is riddled with errors. Rather than launching quixotic attempts at fixing them, researchers increasingly investigate why platforms bias their data.

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Jehyun Sung |Unsplash

Story, 24 August 2020

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

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 review.

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Thomas Stephan |Unsplash

Story, 13 August 2020

Under the Twitter streetlight: How data scarcity distorts research

As part of our #LeftOnRead campaign, several researchers testified to the reluctance of online platforms to provide useful data. Many resort to studying Twitter, which is more accommodating than most.

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Darth Liu |Unsplash

Story, 6 August 2020

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

Udbetaling Danmark was created in 2012 to streamline the payment of welfare benefits. Its fraud control algorithms can access the personal data of millions of citizens, not all of whom receive welfare payments.

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Boehlich |Wikimedia

Story, 22 July 2020

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

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.

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Morning Brew |Unsplash (edited)

Story, 9 July 2020

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

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

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Marcus Kauffman|Unsplash

Story, 17 June 2020

Can AI mitigate the climate crisis? Not really.

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.

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NeONBRAND | Unsplash

Story, 15 June 2020

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

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 remains a blind spot of EU regulations.

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Story, 3 June 2020

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

After a decade and a string of legal actions, an AlgorithmWatch experiment shows that search engines still suggest slanderous, false and disparaging statements.

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Story, 19 May 2020

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

A systematic review of Google’s Perspective, a tool for automated content moderation, reveals that some adjectives are considered more toxic than others.

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Story, 14 May 2020

This man had his credit score changed from C to A+ after a few emails

A 52-year-old man in Hanover, Germany, discovered that he’d been erroneously scored by a credit bureau. His story reveals the gaps in credit score regulation.

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Luis Villasmil |Unsplash

Story, 28 April 2020

Unchecked use of computer vision by police carries high risks of discrimination

At least 11 local police forces in Europe use computer vision to automatically analyze images from surveillance cameras. The risks of discrimination run high but authorities ignore them.

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Nicepear Jakarta|Unsplash

Story, 15 April 2020

Credit scores algorithms keep operating normally even as everything else doesn’t

Consumer organizations are calling for a credit score freeze but credit bureaus see no need to change anything as the Covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc in the finances of many.

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Marko Bugarski|Unsplash

Story, 7 April 2020

Google apologizes after its Vision AI produced racist results

A Google service that automatically labels images produced starkly different results depending on skin tone on a given image. The company fixed the issue, but the problem is likely much broader.

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François Genon|Unsplash

Story, 19 February 2020

EU Commission publishes white paper on AI regulation 20 days before schedule, forgets regulation

In a set of documents published today, the European Commission unveiled its strategy for “Europe's digital future”. Despite some promising regulatory proposals, the Berlaymont’s program for automated systems fails to seriously appreciate the risks.

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Médiathèque Pierre Fanlac de Périgueux

Story, 11 February 2020

Between care and control: 200 years of health data in France

The French “Health Data Hub” will soon offer health data on all French citizens to AI startups that request it. It is the latest step in a project to centralize health information that began 200 years ago and kept oscillating between care and control, but mostly control.

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Praveesh Palakeel|Unsplash

Story, 6 February 2020

The algorithm police is coming. Will it have teeth?

Lawmakers in several European countries are passing or considering legislation to keep algorithms in check. How it will be enforced, and by whom, is still unclear.

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Charles | Unsplash

Blog, 30 December 2019

Automating societies: Nine predictions for 2020

A few days before 2020, AlgorithmWatch makes nine predictions for the new year. Twelve months from now, we will come back to them and assess our forecasting skills.

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蔡 嘉宇 | Unsplash

Blog, 23 December 2019

The year the wrong Amazon burnt: 2019 in review

As the hype around “artificial intelligence” leveled off, the impact of automated decision-making made itself seen. Regulators and civil society fought hard to rein in Big Tech, but much remains to be done to achieve a good balance.

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ev | Unsplash

Story, 11 December 2019

At least 11 police forces use face recognition in the EU, AlgorithmWatch reveals

The majority of the police forces that answered questions by AlgorithmWatch said they use or plan to introduce face recognition. Use cases vary greatly across countries, but almost all have in common their lack of transparency.

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Hanna Morris | Unsplash

Story, 12 November 2019

“Explainable AI” doesn’t work for online services – now there’s proof

New regulation, such as the GDPR, encourages the adoption of “explainable artificial intelligence.” Two researchers claim to have proof of the impossibility for online services to provide trusted explanations.

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Parker Coffman | Unsplash

Story, 11 November 2019

Palantir, the secretive data behemoth linked to the Trump administration, expands into Europe

The data analysis company, known in particular for running the deportation machine of the Trump administration, is expanding aggressively into Europe. Who are its clients?

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Nik Shuliahin | Unsplash

Story, 4 November 2019

Facebook enables automated scams, but fails to automate the fight against them

Scammers massively use Facebook’s advertising platform using so-called “cloakers” to evade automated checks. They would be very simple to detect but, despite announcements to the contrary, Facebook seems to tolerate them.

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Linh Do | Flickr

Story, 16 October 2019

UN special rapporteur on digital technology and social protection denounces a “human rights free-zone”

The report of the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights condemns in strong terms the way governments are privitizing and automating welfare management.

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Story, 6 October 2019

Austria’s employment agency rolls out discriminatory algorithm, sees no problem

AMS, Austria's employment agency, is about to roll out a sorting algorithm that gives lower scores to women and to the disabled. It is very likely illegal under current anti-discrimination law.

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Jonathan Borba | Unsplash

Story, 3 October 2019

Ethical guidelines issued by engineers’ organization fail to gain traction

The world’s largest professional association of engineers released its ethical guidelines for automated systems last March. A review by AlgorithmWatch shows that Facebook and Google have yet to acknowledge them.

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Nikola Johnny Mirkovic  | Unsplash

Story, 12 August 2019

Spain: Legal fight over an algorithm’s code

Half a million Spaniards have been denied an electricity subsidy although they might be eligible. Non-profit Civio is going to court to obtain the source code of the software making the decisions.

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Zac Ong | Unsplash

Essay, 7 August 2019

Personal Scoring in the EU: Not quite Black Mirror yet, at least if you’re rich 

A centralized, permanent and public personal scoring system is very unlikely to appear in EU countries, but this does not mean that a large share of the European population is not or will not be subject to invasive scoring mechanisms.

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Daan Stevens | Unsplash

Story, 11 June 2019

Bad data and health: Garbage in, carnage out

French investigative outlet Mediacités recently revealed how design failures in the user interface of software used in the country’s second-largest hospital endangered patients’ lives. Such software is used to gather the data that feeds machine learning algorithms, raising questions on the efficiency of artificial intelligence solutions in the health sector and what they mean for patients' health.

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