Browse Definitions:

algorithmic accountability

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Algorithmic accountability is the concept that companies should be held responsible for the results of their programmed algorithms. The concept goes hand in hand with algorithmic transparency, which requires companies be open about the purpose, structure and underlying actions of the algorithms used to search for, process and deliver information.

As the product of humans, algorithms can have issues resulting from human bias or simple oversight. Algorithmic accountability is promoted as a way to help such issues be recognized and corrected.

Human bias and oversight in algorithms can cause undesired and even dangerous problems in AI systems. Some errors in the development of AI have become common knowledge. Google’s facial recognition software, for example, labeled some black people as gorillas, which created public relations problems. As the result of a faulty algorithm, Uber’s self-driving car ran a stop sign.

Beyond embarrassment or insult to people, issues with algorithms can be dangerous. Drivers are cautioned, for example, not to swerve to avoid small animals. Using the same flawed algorithm, a self-driving car could potentially fail to recognize a small child as human and hit it as a result.

Practices to prevent issues in algorithms resulting in bias and errors include more extensive testing on the development side, particularly for biases. In the case of self-driving cars, that could mean testing for problems with recognition of minorities.

In order to have code audited, it has to have at least qualified transparency, which means that it is made available to third-party inspection. Such inspection may be performed by a regulatory body if algorithms are not open source and open to public inspection.

The main hurdle for achieving algorithmic accountability is not how to achieve it, but how to make companies accept legal and ethical responsibility for it.

This was last updated in August 2017

Continue Reading About algorithmic accountability

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Please create a username to comment.


File Extensions and File Formats

Powered by:


  • risk map (risk heat map)

    A risk map, also known as a risk heat map, is a data visualization tool for communicating specific risks an organization faces.

  • internal audit (IA)

    An internal audit (IA) is an organizational initiative to monitor and analyze its own business operations in order to determine ...

  • pure risk (absolute risk)

    Pure risk, also called absolute risk, is a category of threat that is beyond human control and has only one possible outcome if ...


  • FIDO (Fast Identity Online)

    FIDO (Fast ID Online) is a set of technology-agnostic security specifications for strong authentication. FIDO is developed by the...

  • cryptanalysis

    Cryptanalysis is the study of ciphertext, ciphers and cryptosystems with the aim of understanding how they work and finding and ...

  • Trojan horse (computing)

    In computing, a Trojan horse is a program that appears harmless, but is, in fact, malicious.



  • business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR)

    Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) are closely related practices that describe an organization's preparation for ...

  • business continuity plan (BCP)

    A business continuity plan (BCP) is a document that consists of the critical information an organization needs to continue ...

  • call tree

    A call tree -- sometimes referred to as a phone tree -- is a telecommunications chain for notifying specific individuals of an ...


  • personal cloud storage (PCS)

    Personal cloud storage (PCS) enables users to store data, photos, music, videos and other files on a local network-attached ...

  • cloud SLA (cloud service-level agreement)

    A cloud SLA (cloud service-level agreement) is an agreement between a cloud service provider and a customer that ensures a ...

  • wear leveling

    Wear leveling is a process that is designed to extend the life of solid-state storage devices.


  • hybrid hard disk drive (HDD)

    A hybrid hard disk drive is an electromechanical spinning hard disk that contains some amount of NAND Flash memory.