Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation: systemic regulation of online targeting required

February 5, 2020

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, the independent adviser on AI and data-driven technology, has published its first set of formal recommendations to government on social media targeting.

In the October 2018 Budget, the Chancellor announced that the CDEI would be exploring the use of data in shaping people’s online experiences. The review forms a key part of the CDEI’s 2019/2020 work programme. It relates closely to several government workstreams, including the planned Online Harms Bill, as well as the Competition and Markets Authority’s market study into online platforms and digital advertising, and the ICO’s code of practice on age appropriate design for online services.

Following public consultation, the CDEI has now published its final report, which includes its first set of formal recommendations to the government.

The CDEI’s recommendations include:

  • New systemic regulation of the online targeting systems that promote and recommend content like posts, videos and advertisements
  • Powers to require platforms to allow independent researchers secure access to their data to build an evidence base on issues of public concern – from the potential links between social media use and declining mental health, to its role in providing incentives for the spread of misinformation
  • Platforms to host publicly accessible online archives for ‘high-risk’ advertisements, including politics, ‘opportunities’ (eg jobs, housing, credit) and age-restricted products
  • Steps to encourage long-term wholesale reform of online targeting to give individuals greater control over how their online experiences are personalised

When the government established the CDEI, it committed to publicly respond to the CDEI’s recommendations within six months of publication.

The CDEI’s proposals focus on the Online Harms Bill, review of online advertising regulation, and government announcements on electoral integrity and reform of competition regulation in digital markets. It will be engaging with the government on these programmes and monitoring their progress closely.

The CDEI aims to support the UK government and regulators to help deliver its recommendations, and states that it looks forward to working with various parties to build trust in the use of data online.