Project of the Day: The Algorithm Observatory

Social media platforms watch us. But who watches them? Part media literacy project and part citizen science experiment, Algorithm Observatory is a global collaborative lab for the empirical analysis of social computing algorithms. We are currently in the prototype stage, which only allows you to study Facebook advertising algorithms. Join us! Click here for more info about the future of Algorithm Observatory.

The following texts are taken from Algorithm Observatory’s Website.

Why this project is necessary

We know that social computing algorithms are used to categorize us, but the way they do so is not always transparent. To take just one example, ProPublica recently uncovered that Facebook allows housing advertisers to exclude users by race.

Even so, there are no simple and accessible resources for us, the public, to study algorithms empirically, and to engage critically with the technologies that are shaping our daily lives in such profound ways.

That is why we created Algorithm Observatory.

Part media literacy project and part citizen experiment, the goal of Algorithm Observatory is to provide a collaborative online lab for the study of social computing algorithms. The data collected through this site is analyzed to compare how a particular algorithm handles data differently depending on the characteristics of users.

Algorithm Observatory is a work in progress. This prototype only allows users to explore Facebook advertising algorithms, and the functionality is limited. We are currently looking for funding to realize the project’s full potential: to allow anyone to study any social computing algorithm.

Who we are

This project was conceived and is currently being developed by Dr. Ulises Mejias, Associate Professor at SUNY Oswego.

Initial funding for the prototype was generously provided by LINGOs/Humentum.

Holly Reitmeier is research assistant. Tahira Abdo is project assistant.

We would also like to thank students in Prof. Mejias’ BRC 421/521 and HON 301 classes for helping us test the prototype.

Who can use our data

Data generated through this site (ie., data included in the Results page) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. You can use it on any reports or projects that you want, but please cite Algorithm Observatory as the source.

Our future plans

This is a prototype, which only begins to showcase the things that Algorithm Observatory will be able to do in the future.

Eventually, the website will allow anyone to design an experiment involving a social computing algorithm. The platform will allow researchers to recruit volunteer participants, who will be able to contribute content to the site securely and anonymously. Researchers will then be able to conduct an analysis to compare how the algorithm handles users differently depending on individual characteristics. The results will be shared by publishing a report evaluating the social impact of the algorithm. All data and reports will become publicly available and open for comments and reviews. Researchers will be able to study any algorithm, because the site does not require direct access to the source code, but relies instead on empirical observation of the interaction between the algorithm and volunteer participants.

We are currently seeking funding to develop the full version of the project.

Contact us

For more information, please email [email protected].

Intentionally, we do not have any social media accounts.

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