Algorithmic Regulation: A Critical Interrogation

42 Pages Posted: 23 May 2017 Last revised: 29 Jun 2017

See all articles by Karen Yeung

Karen Yeung

The University of Birmingham

Date Written: May 23, 2017


Innovations in networked digital communications technologies, including the rise of ‘Big Data’, ubiquitous computing and cloud storage systems, may be giving rise to a new system of social ordering known as algorithmic regulation. Algorithmic regulation refers to decision-making systems that regulate a domain of activity in order to manage risk or alter behaviour through continual computational generation of knowledge by systematically collecting data (in real time on a continuous basis) emitted directly from numerous dynamic components pertaining to the regulated environment in order to identify and, if necessary, automatically refine (or prompt refinement of) the system’s operations to attain a pre-specified goal.

It provides a descriptive analysis of algorithmic regulation, classifying these decision-making systems as either reactive or pre-emptive, and offers a taxonomy that identifies 8 different forms of algorithmic regulation based on their configuration at each of the three stages of the cybernetic process: notably, at the level of standard setting (adaptive vs. fixed behavioural standards); information-gathering and monitoring (historic data vs. predictions based on inferred data) and at the level of sanction and behavioural change (automatic execution vs. recommender systems). It maps the contours of several emerging debates surrounding algorithmic regulation, drawing upon insights from regulatory governance studies, legal critiques, surveillance studies and critical data studies to highlight various concerns about the legitimacy of algorithmic regulation.

Keywords: big data, algorithms, surveillance, enforcement, automation

JEL Classification: K29; K30

Suggested Citation

Yeung, Karen, Algorithmic Regulation: A Critical Interrogation (May 23, 2017). TLI Think! Paper 62/2017, Regulation & Governance, Forthcoming, King's College London Law School Research Paper No. 2017-27, Available at SSRN:

Karen Yeung (Contact Author)

The University of Birmingham ( email )

Law School and School of Computer Science
Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT
United Kingdom

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