Algorithmic Collective Action in Recommender Systems: Promoting Songs by Reordering Playlists

19 Mar 2024  ·  Joachim Baumann, Celestine Mendler-Dünner ·

We investigate algorithmic collective action in transformer-based recommender systems. Our use case is a collective of fans aiming to promote the visibility of an artist by strategically placing one of their songs in the existing playlists they control. The success of the collective is measured by the increase in test-time recommendations of the targeted song. We introduce two easily implementable strategies towards this goal and test their efficacy on a publicly available recommender system model released by a major music streaming platform. Our findings reveal that even small collectives (controlling less than 0.01% of the training data) can achieve up 25x amplification of recommendations by strategically choosing the position at which to insert the song. We then focus on investigating the externalities of the strategy. We find that the performance loss for the platform is negligible, and the recommendations of other songs are largely preserved, minimally impairing the user experience of participants. Moreover, the costs are evenly distributed among other artists. Taken together, our findings demonstrate how collective action strategies can be effective while not necessarily being adversarial, raising new questions around incentives, social dynamics, and equilibria in recommender systems.

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