Today, countless tech-startups are focused on building digital platforms and solutions and at the center stage of these ventures are algorithms. These algorithms facilitate millions or even billions of decisions every day – ranging from search-engine algorithms deciding what shows up on your Google-search to personal-preference algorithms giving suggestions on what clothes you should buy. In this way, they make life a lot easier for you. But many people still have a negative association to algorithms and in this blog post, I will explore the reasons behind this distrust and what is being done to prevent it.
Before I continue, it’s important to highlight that this blog post is largely based on the tech-startup Wolt’s “Algorithmic Transparency Report” (Wolt, 2022). It sparked my interest and gave me the idea to write this blog post.
Back to the point, the distrust of algorithms is mainly due to their lack of transparency (which is stated in the report mentioned above). People are generally unaware of how algorithms work and what role they play in the daily workings of today’s companies. For some, the idea that an algorithm can tell what your favorite type of food is or what concert you are most likely to go to this summer is seen as scary. It’s almost as if someone else is deciding these things for you, isn’t it?
This is why it’s important to talk about and promote algorithmic transparency, so that people can understand what algorithms are and how they are implemented by the majority of today’s companies. In the report by Wolt, there is a reference to a draft on digital rights by the European Commission, stating that:
“Everyone should be empowered to
benefit from the advantages of artificial
intelligence by making their own, informed
choices in the digital environment, while
being protected against risks and harm
to one’s health, safety and fundamental
I put “making their own, informed choices” in bold because it relates to algorithmic transparency and the whole essence of this blog post. The only way we can reassure people of the safety and benefits of algorithms is by being transparent. Explaining why we use algorithms, when they are used and also when they aren’t used. It’s really as important to know that when an algorithm is suggesting the best search result for you, the same algorithm is also hiding other results from you.
In the end, the only way we can build an equal, fair and democratic digital environment is when people are aware of algorithms and their role in facilitating countless decisions every day. Only by being informed can people understand their own presence in the digital world and how algorithms use your activity to infer things about you.