Digital responsibility: five companies against discrimination through algorithms

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Around three years after the Federal Ministry of Justice launched an initiative for “Corporate Digital Responsibility” (CDR) based on the model of corporate social responsibility in the form of “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR), the five companies currently involved have drawn up and developed a code officially adopted. It defines fields of action and guidelines for digital corporate responsibility at the affiliated companies.

“Corporate digital responsibility means dealing responsibly with the opportunities and risks of digitization,” said State Secretary of Justice Christian Kastrop on Monday about the decision. “The code provides guidance on how the technical possibilities of digitization and civil society responsibility can be reconciled with one another”. CDR will become more than just another “buzzword” in digitization. If companies take on responsibility, it is an investment in consumer confidence and in social cohesion.

To the members of the local CDR-Initiative currently owned by Deutsche Telekom, ING Germany, the Otto Group, Telefónica Germany and Zalando. Originally, in 2019, Miele, SAP and “Die Zeit”, together with the Justice Department, identified the first principles and cornerstones “for responsible behavior by companies in the digital world” as an interim result. The three companies are currently no longer on board.

The According to the ministry, the code names tangible fields of action and guidelines for CDR for the first time in this country. All members of the initiative committed to comply with them. According to the code, this includes regular progress reports, which should use examples to illustrate the social responsibility of the members in a transparent and comprehensible manner.

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The authors of the agreement define five fields of action in which measures and goals are to be defined. It is about the handling of data, education, climate and resource protection, the involvement of employees and social inclusion.

The undersigned companies should, for example, identify and counteract the dangers of discrimination through the use of algorithmic systems and ensure that consumer data is handled transparently. In this area, the “voluntary self-commitment” takes on the most concrete form. For example, the undersigned vow to make the new opportunities for profile analyzes (“profiling”) “responsible, transparent and fair”, which have been enhanced above all through machine learning.

Processes and products are designed in such a way that consumers “can make decisions confidently and autonomously in the situations that affect them”, is another promise on this point. What is needed is an ethical handling of data with advanced technical solutions, “which range from the general infrastructure to product design and customer interfaces”. Data and cybersecurity should also be taken into account from the ground up in system and product development, and security gaps should be consistently avoided through weak point management.

The commitments in the other fields of action remain much more vague. One wants to “strengthen digital solutions to protect our environment” as well as “design and use information and communication technologies in an environmentally and resource-friendly way”, is a general promise. According to the document, those involved are also looking at the work on barrier-free offers that could improve the flow of information between consumers and companies and reduce access barriers, for example through open source solutions.

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In addition, the code authors have defined very general principles that should guide all members of the initiative in their work. This includes transparency, people-centeredness and respect for basic social values ​​such as democracy, freedom and the equal treatment of all people.


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