Strategic Games and Algorithmic Secrecy

41 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2019 Last revised: 16 Nov 2020

See all articles by Ignacio Cofone

Ignacio Cofone

McGill University Faculty of Law

Katherine J. Strandburg

New York University School of Law

Date Written: October 18, 2019


We challenge a claim commonly made by industry and government representatives and echoed by legal scholarship: that algorithmic decision-making processes are better kept opaque or secret because otherwise decision-subjects will “game the system”, leading to inaccurate or unfair results. We show that the range of situations in which people are able to game decision-making algorithms is narrow, even when there is substantial disclosure. We then analyze how to identify when gaming is possible in light of (i) how tightly the decision-making proxies are tied to the factors that would ideally determine the outcome, (ii) how easily those proxies can be altered by decision-subjects, and (iii) whether such strategic alterations ultimately lead to mistaken decisions. Based on this analysis, we argue that blanket claims that disclosure will lead to gaming are over-blown and that it will often be possible to construct socially beneficial disclosure regimes.

Keywords: algorithmic decision-making, gaming, algorithmic transparency, algorithmic secrecy, algorithmic opacity, algorithmic accountability, automated decision-making, credit scoring, criminal investigation, criminal procedure, employment law game theory & the law

Suggested Citation

Cofone, Ignacio and Strandburg, Katherine J., Strategic Games and Algorithmic Secrecy (October 18, 2019). 64.4 McGill Law Journal 623 (2019), NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 20-08, Available at SSRN: or

Ignacio Cofone (Contact Author)

McGill University Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec H3A 1W9


Katherine J. Strandburg

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States


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