Announcing our first external ethics audit

Posted / 14th August 2020

Ollie Smith, Strategy Director and Head of Ethics

The keen reader of Alpha Health’s recently published ethics strategy will have spotted that we are committed to publishing an annual, external audit of progress against our ethics strategy. Therefore I am pleased today to be able to publish our first ever external ethics audit.

This audit, which largely took place during the course of 2019, focuses on a prototype app called REM!X. This app no longer exists as its purpose was to test various hypotheses relating to helping people improve their health and happiness, and to help us build our capabilities. Indeed, part of that capability building was itself to test how we could implement our ethics strategy, and consequently evolve and improve it. As a result, we have incorporated the valuable lessons learned from this exercise, both the results of the audit itself and the auditing methodology, into our current and future work. 

It has taken us some time to publish the audit because it involved multiple analyses, including an Algorithmic Impact Assessment to test whether the algorithm at the heart of REM!X was biased. Moreover, our agile development model meant that REM!X changed as the audit progressed, including some changes in direct response to the audit. This presented somewhat of a moving target for the auditors. Finally, I also think that it’s fair to say that the concept of an ethics audit remains fairly novel in the world of digital technology. Therefore, we have been learning a lot about what information is relevant and how to structure the analysis as we have progressed.

 The audit was undertaken by Eticas R&C, with support from their colleagues at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). Overall, they judge that REM!X demonstrated an adequate application of ethical standards. It performed strongest in areas such as data security, minimisation, and privacy; with areas for improvement including greater transparency, and the earlier identification, and therefore proactive management, of trade-offs between different ethical principles.

The results of the audit have already informed the development of Alpha Health’s product portfolio, and have been bolstered by training sessions delivered by Eticas and UPF on ethics and algorithmic bias. Further work is underway to improve how our ethics strategy is embedded within our internal processes, and I hope that we shall see this bear fruit in our next external audit, later this year.

I want to extend huge thanks to Eticas and UPF for all of their hard work, their unflinching ability to call us out when we weren’t meeting our aspirations, and their patience with our agile development model.

Needless to say, what you will read in the audit is the view of the auditors, but on behalf of Alpha Health, I wholeheartedly welcome this report and its conclusions. I also welcome comments and suggestions from readers on the audit, especially on how we can improve.