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Journal Articles AI and Ethics Year : 2023

Algorithmic audits of algorithms, and the law


Algorithmic decision making is now widespread, ranging from health care allocation to more common actions such as recommendation or information ranking. The aim to audit these algorithms has grown alongside. In this paper, we focus on external audits that are conducted by interacting with the user side of the target algorithm, hence considered as a black box. Yet, the legal framework in which these audits take place is mostly ambiguous to researchers developing them: on the one hand, the legal value of the audit outcome is uncertain; on the other hand the auditors' rights and obligations are unclear. The contribution of this paper is to articulate two canonical audit forms to law, to shed light on these aspects: • the first audit form (we coin the Bobby audit form) checks a predicate against the algorithm, while the second (Sherlock) is more loose and opens up to multiple investigations. We find that: Bobby audits are more amenable to prosecution, yet are delicate as operating on real user data. This can lead to reject by a court (notion of admissibility). Sherlock audits craft data for their operation, most notably to build surrogates of the audited algorithm. It is mostly used for acts for whistleblowing, as even if accepted as a proof, the evidential value will be low in practice. • these two forms require the prior respect of a proper right to audit, granted by law or by the platform being audited; otherwise the auditor will be also prone to prosecutions regardless of the audit outcome. This article thus highlights the relation of current audits with law, in order to structure the growing field of algorithm auditing.
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Dates and versions

hal-03583919 , version 1 (22-02-2022)
hal-03583919 , version 2 (20-11-2023)





Erwan Le Merrer, Ronan Pons, Gilles Trédan. Algorithmic audits of algorithms, and the law. AI and Ethics, 2023, pp.1-21. ⟨10.1007/s43681-023-00343-z⟩. ⟨hal-03583919v2⟩
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