Can an Algorithm be Unethical?

Publié le 6 juillet 2018

Créée le 6 juillet 2018

In Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), computer algorithms now control the display of content across a wide range of industries and applications, from search results to social media (Gillespie, 2013). Abuses of power by Internet platforms have led to calls for “algorithm transparency” and regulation (Pasquale, 2014). This paper responds by asking what an analyst needs to know ​about algorithms i​n order to determine if an ICT is acting improperly, unethically or illegally. It further asks whether “the algorithm” is a useful object for ethical investigation. The paper briefly reviews the technical history of the term, then performs an ethical analysis of a hypothetical surveillance system to investigate the question of whether it is useful to consider an algorithm “unethical” in itself. It finds that law and policy researchers can in fact employ technical expertise about algorithms and that such expertise might be crucial to make judgments about future ICTs.


applied ethics

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)

Internet studies

science and technology studies (STS)


Christian Sandvig

University of Michigan

Kevin Hamilton

Center for People & Infrastructures, University of Illinois at Urbana­Champaign

Karrie Karahalios

Center for People & Infrastructures, University of Illinois at Urbana­Champaign

Posté par

Dominique Cardon



Laisser un commentaire

* Tous les champs suivis d'un astérisque sont obligatoires

Votre commentaire sera révisé par le site si nécessaire.