ALEX, a short-cut for “Algorithms Exposed. Investigating Automated Personalization and Filtering for Research and Activism”, aims at unmasking the functioning of personalization algorithms on social media platforms. From an original idea of lead developer Claudio Agosti, ALEX marks the engagement of DATACTIVE with “data activism in practice”—that is to say, turning data into a point of intervention in society.
Hosted by the University of Amsterdam’s Department of Media Studies, ALEX is funded by a Proof of Concept grant of the European Research Council (grant agreement no. 825974), awarded to Stefania Milan as Principal Investigator.
ALEX is meant to provide researchers, advocates, policymakers and journalists with reliable and accessible algorithmic auditing methods and data. In our view, it empowers users to independently monitor, compare, and reflect upon their information diets. It is innovative because:
- It puts the user in the driver seat, by giving individuals full control of data extraction patterns. In other words, users can decide at any time if and what data to volunteer and to what research project. They can also decide to withdraw their participation whenever they are so inclined.
- It supports data protection and user privacy: it is fully GDPR-compliant, it does not interfere with the user privacy settings and observes only publicly available content appearing in the Facebook news feed, not individual profiles or pages.
- Users retain data sovereignty. Users decide what selected portions of their social media experience they want to share; they own their data and can at any time see how data are used in aggregate analyses.
- It is open-source! You can download and customise it. Although we use Facebook as a test case, our methodology can be applied to any other social media platform.
- By enabling self-awareness, it promotes a healthy information diet. By unpacking the functioning of personalisation algorithms, it fosters a responsible use of social media.