To understand digital advertising, study its algorithms

Mar 22, 2018

ALAN MISLOVE studies algorithms. Recently, his research at Northeastern University, in Boston, has shown that Facebook’s software was leaking users’ phone numbers to advertisers. He has also found new ways to audit that same software for racial bias. But work like his faces challenges. Scraping data from public-facing websites often sails close to breaching their terms and conditions. And the companies those websites belong to are generally unwilling to give researchers more direct access to their systems.

Moreover, examining other people’s algorithms requires the creation of your own to do so. Dr Mislove’s group often spends months just writing the code needed to gather any data at all about the objects of its inquiry. This means that only those with sufficient computer-science skills can study the computer programs that play an ever-growing role in society—not just in commerce, but also in politics, economics, justice and many other areas of life. This is bad for research and for the public...

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