A Network-centric Framework for Auditing Recommendation Systems

To improve the experience of consumers, all social media, commerce and entertainment sites deploy Recommendation Systems (RSs) that aim to help users locate interesting content. These RSs are black-boxes - the way a chunk of information is filtered out and served to a user from a large information base is mostly opaque. No one except the parent company generally has access to the entire information required for auditing these systems - neither the details of the algorithm nor the user-item interactions are ever made publicly available for third-party auditors. Hence auditing RSs remains an important challenge, especially with the recent concerns about how RSs are affecting the views of the society at large with new technical jargons like "echo chambers", "confirmation biases", "filter bubbles" etc. in place. Many prior works have evaluated different properties of RSs such as diversity, novelty, etc. However, most of these have focused on evaluating static snapshots of RSs. Today, auditors are not only interested in these static evaluations on a snapshot of the system, but also interested in how these systems are affecting the society in course of time. In this work, we propose a novel network-centric framework which is not only able to quantify various static properties of RSs, but also is able to quantify dynamic properties such as how likely RSs are to lead to polarization or segregation of information among their users. We apply the framework to several popular movie RSs to demonstrate its utility.

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