Tuesday 14 July 2020

Amsterdam trials algorithm to track down illegal holiday lets

Photo: DutchNews.nl

Amsterdam city officials have been given the green light to experiment with using algorithms to track down people illegally renting out their homes via platforms such as Airbnb.

The move, backed by the council’s executive board on Tuesday night, is ‘the beginning of a new initiative’, said Marnix Bolkestein, head of the city’s housing supervision department in the Volkskrant.

‘Hopefully this will mean we need less manpower to find suspicious homes and there will be more time to send in the inspectors,’ he said.

The algorithm will include information about previous housing fraud and information from the city’s population registries. ‘We already analyse this information, but it is done by hand,’ Bolkestein said. ‘The algorithms can do this better and more quickly.’

According to a city press release, the algorithm will analyse how likely it is that fraud is involved at a given address. ‘If the chance is more than 50%, then an official will give priority to that address,’ the statement said.


Using algorithms to comb council information is a privacy-sensitive issue. Earlier this month, judges in The Hague ruled that the Dutch government’s algorithm-based fraud detection system SyRI should be dropped because it conflicts with the European treaty on human rights and with privacy legislation.

SyRI, devised by social affairs ministry officials in 2014, had been used by four local authorities to draw up lists of people suspected of some form of housing or social security fraud.

The SyRI system uses an algorithm which links government organisations and draws up risk profiles based on the profiles of people already caught committing social security fraud. It then combs the records to find people with a similar risk profile who are then considered to be potential fraudsters and listed for further investigation.

Legal experts say the SyRI ruling does not mean councils cannot use algorithms but say they do need to be transparent and limited in their approach.

Earlier this month, Amsterdam was forced to withdraw fines totalling €400,000 which officials have handed out to people breaking the rules on holiday rentals after the highest Dutch court said the fines were illegal.

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