US report triggers warning over big data discrimination in UK

DataIQ News

Businesses using big data have been given a warning shot over the use of "harmful exclusion or discrimination" by US authorities in a report which is likely to have far-reaching consenquences for firms operating in Europe.

With the UK Financial Conduct Authority already gathering evidence of big data's influence in the insurance market - as a precusor to a full-scale investigation - one leading lawyer claims the report should put British firms on alert.  

The Federal Trade Commission has called on companies to check how representative their datasets are, whether their "data model" takes account of biases and how accurate the predictions they make are when based on big data.

"Companies should remember that while big data is very good at detecting correlations, it does not explain which correlations are meaningful," the report stated, adding that businesses should review whether their "reliance on big data raises ethical or fairness concerns".

And while data protection laws in the EU already account for people profiling through big data analytics, Pinsent Masons technology law expert Luke Scanlon said the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will put more of an onus on businesses to ensure they are not discriminating against certain groups.

He said: "While the existing data protection laws place restrictions on the extent to which businesses can rely on automated decisions which have legal effects on individuals, the GDPR will more directly require businesses to think in terms of whether their data analytics processes may lead to discrimination.

"Consideration will need to be given as to whether mathematical and statistical procedures used are adequate enough to deal with the risk of data inaccuracies and other errors that could have the consequence of classes of individuals being treated less favourably than others," he said.

Scanlon added that "there is good reason for EU businesses to keep up-to-date with international guidance on the topic of discrimination by data".