IGF 2018 WS #291
Algorithmic Transparency: Path to Privacy and Accountability


Organizer 1: Prasanth Sugathan, Software Freedom Law Centre, India
Organizer 2: Sukarn Singh Maini, SFLC.in - Software Freedom Law Centre, India
Organizer 3: Priyanka Chaudhuri, Software Freedom Law Centre, India

Speaker 1: Prasanth Sugathan, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Mark Surman, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Andrade Norberto, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Kathryn Hume, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Round Table - 60 Min


Our roundtable shall comprise of 3-4 experts from the industry, technical field and civil society communities. Each speaker will have a specific line of expertise and will intervene accordingly. Our session will be participant driven i.e. audience members will be asked to initiate the discussion by posing questions to our experts and the discussion will be regulated by the session moderator. Our speakers will be afforded 30 minutes in total to provide their comments/ inputs and audience participation will be split equally between physical members and the online community (15 minutes each will be allocated to audience participation). The online interaction will be held at the very end of our session.


There will be diversity amongst our speakers on the lines of gender – we will ensure proportional female and male representation. Our speakers will represent distinct stakeholder groups, will belong to different age groups and will bring about unique policy perspectives. Every effort will be made to include speakers from varied regions/ geographies by circulating session details in multiple stakeholder groups and mailing lists across nationalities.

Our session will be in the form of a 60-minute roundtable, bringing in experts from the field of technology including legal/policy professionals. Our experts will discuss some pertinent issues revolving around algorithmic transparency. This discussion will address the following broad issues:

1. Will algorithmic transparency ensure the reduction of bias and protection of digital rights?
2. How will entities balance commercial interests and protect their intellectual property rights with disclosure of algorithms?
3. How will simple disclosure translate into accountability and how will liability be determined in cases of algorithmic malfunction?
4. Algorithms are complex computer code, how will entities deal with reasonable disclosure for the understanding of the general public?
5. What are some alternate methods of algorithmic transparency? Can regular audits be relied on to ensure accountability?

The roundtable moderator will first introduce the subject matter experts at the table and then open the session with a brief explanation of the topic. Our roundtable is going to be a participant driven discussion, with designated subject matter experts acting as guiding points. Participant engagement will happen organically throughout the entire duration of the session and we expect a split of 30 minutes for our speakers and 15 minutes for physical participants. Once our roundtable has concluded, our experts will take up questions and invite participation from the online community at the IGF – the last 15 minutes shall be dedicated to online participation. As our experts will be from different lines of work in the technology industry, the audience will be able to address a wide gamut of questions to them.

Today, computer algorithms are ubiquitous – from our personal devices to work equipment, these algorithms power machines which help us make decisions and affect our daily lives. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, powerful algorithms have trickled down to various facets of public life, like – assimilation of news, social media, transportation, health-care, justice systems, entertainment, communication etc. These algorithms present us with choices and make decisions on our behalf based on our behavior. Though this evolution in computer technology has made human life easier, there are a number of concerns which arise when we enable machines to make complex decisions for us.

As technology slowly floods our lives and we rely on an increasing number of machines to interact with our physical world (driver-less cars, drones and fitness trackers) – these powerful algorithms, will continue to become more opaque and less transparent. Among various things, algorithms will decide – when we get a job, who needs to go to prison, how we should travel, when we should see a doctor, what public policies are effective and how should public services (education, health care, justice) be delivered. When it comes to technologies which affect – public decision making, public services, safety, health and human rights the importance of transparency and accountability becomes paramount. Algorithmic transparency and accountability means the explanation of how a technology makes decisions and presents us with choices. It keeps users informed of processes which businesses and governments apply in their technologies to make decisions on their behalf.

Due to various instances of malpractice, bias and malfunctioning, for sometime now, algorithmic transparency has been advocated by experts to increase accountability of businesses and governments. Our roundtable experts will address various issues around algorithmic transparency like – the balance of commercial interests along with protection of intellectual property rights in context of algorithmic transparency; will algorithmic transparency lead to a reduction of bias and protection of digital rights; how algorithmic transparency will translate into accountability and how will it affect liability; making complex algorithms coherent to the general public to increase transparency; and auditing as an alternative form of algorithmic transparency.

Our proposal does not build on prior workshops, discussions or any previous work for advancing our agenda.

Online Participation

We will have designated time (15 minutes) for online participation at the end of our roundtable discussion – this allocation is equal to our participation time for physical members as well. Once our session moderator closes the roundtable discussion, they will invite participation from the online community and pass responsibility to the online moderator for conducting the discussion.