Conference: Transparency in the Digital Environment

Conferences, Ethics of AI in Context

Transparency in the Digital Environment

Transparency has become an astonishingly popular ideal over the last couple of decades. Its traditional habitats, public law and political theory, have lost their monopoly to define it. It has globalized and spilled over to new disciplinary discourses – quite prominently, in algorithms and automation – thus becoming a well-nigh self-justificatory virtue, “the cultural signifier of neutrality.” Transparency promises that we can witness, immediately, what happens in the chambers of power, and by virtue of this witnessing, fix what needs to be fixed.

Can we, really? In the wake of post-truth politics, fake news and alternative facts, this promise needs to be reassessed. Governance uses increasingly computerized forms, automated decision-making and even machine learning, often taking place in opaque “black boxes.” At the same time, due to our online behavior, big data and even deliberate manipulation, we are pulled towards solipsistic realities: echo chambers and filter bubbles. These trends may distance us from interactive democratic deliberation, which presupposes some shared understanding of reality.

Can transparency deliver its promise in a digitalized environment? Does power hide not only from transparency but in transparency? Is it just a figurative placeholder for information release practices, or has it become a meta-discourse to assess the successfulness of those practices? To what extent is it legal, social, cultural, technical, material? These questions are important.

Algorithmic governance may not have a human understandable form to represent. What would be made visible, then?

There is a growing literature on critical transparency studies which argues convincingly that transparency is not an avenue to objective truth. Additionally, critical algorithm studies suggest, in turn, that algorithmization of our society cannot take place in a social vacuum. So far, law has not contributed much to those debates. To a large extent, it seems to subscribe quite uncritically to the realist theory of knowledge and concentrate on doctrinal analysis of freedom of information acts, or data protection law.

★ This online conference will feature contributors to a special issue, guest edited by Ida Koivisto (Law, Helsinki), in the open-access online journal Critical Analysis of Law: An International & Interdisciplinary Law Review. ► Access the special issue here.

Preliminary Schedule

10am [= 7am Pacific/3pm UK/4pm Central Europe/5pm Finland]
Panel 1: Digital Transparency Between Truth and Power
10:00 Introduction
10:05 “Transparency-Washing” in the Digital Age: A Corporate Agenda of Procedural Fetishism (Monika Zalnieriute, in absentia) (summary by Ida Koivisto)
10:10 Crafting Digital Transparency: Implementing Legal Values into Algorithmic Design
(Riikka Koulu)
10:25 The Digital Rear Window: Epistemologies of Digital Transparency
(Ida Koivisto)
10:40 Three Sides of the Same Coin: Datafied Transparency, Biometric Surveillance, and Algorithmic Governmentalities (Oana B. Albu & Hans Krause Hansen)
10:55 Discussion & Q&A

11:30am [= 8:30am/4:30pm/5:30pm/6:30pm]
Panel 2: The Promise and Perils of Digital Transparency
11:30 Algorithmic Transparency and Explainability for EU Consumer Protection: Unwrapping the Regulatory Premises (Mateusz Grochowski, Agnieszka Jabłonowska, Francesca Lagioia & Giovanni Sartor)
11:45 Notified But Unaware: Third-Party Tracking Online (Stefan Larsson, Anders Jensen-Urstad, & Fredrik Heintz)
12:00 A “Public” Journey Through COVID-19: Donald Trump, Twitter, and the Secrecy of U.S. Presidents’ Health (Mark Fenster)
12:15 Transparent Dreams (Are Made of This): Counterfactuals as Transparency Tools in ADM (Katja de Vries)
12:30 Discussion & Q&A

► please register here

This is an online event. It will be live streamed on the Centre for Ethics YouTube Channel at 10am, Friday, May 7 [= 7am Pacific/3pm UK/4pm Central Europe/5pm Finland]. Channel subscribers will receive a notification at the start of the live stream.



Fri, May 7, 2021
10:00 AM - 01:00 PM
Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto