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Mozilla is investigating YouTube’s curious recommendation algorithms

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2020-09-17 12:25:00

Privacy first: Submitted data will be assigned to a randomly generated user ID and only Mozilla will have access to it. Furthermore, data won’t be collected during private browsing sessions and when Mozilla presents its findings to the public, it’ll do so in a way that’ll minimize the risk of users being identified.

YouTube’s recommendations algorithms usually do a decent job of steering viewers toward content they’re legitimately interested in. Occasionally, however, things seemingly go off the rails and before you know it, you’re down a rabbit hole on the “weird” part of YouTube.

Mozilla is just as curious about the origins of these unusual recommendations as the rest of us and they aim to find out what exactly is going on through a new browser extension called RegretsReporter.

Once installed, users can click the frowning icon in their browser bar whenever they’ve stumbled upon a questionable recommendation they wish to submit for review. The report will send over the video and recommendations that led to it in hopes of identifying a pattern to better understand why the algorithm suggested the video.

Users will have the option to send additional information along with their report, such as why they regret watching the video and how egregious the video was.

Ashley Boyd, Mozilla’s vice president of advocacy and engagement, told The Verge that privacy will be a key component of the project.

A spokesperson for YouTube told The Verge that while they are always interested in research on their recommendation system, “it’s hard to draw broad conclusions from anecdotal examples and we update our recommendations systems on an ongoing basis, to improve the experience for users.”

Those interested in participating can add the extension to Firefox or Chrome from Mozilla’s website.

Masthead credit: Michael Vi

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