Facebook Don’t Want You To Know How Their Algorithm Works – Here's Why
By Jim Killock Open Rights Group: Facebook Tracking Exposed (FTE) is a browser extension which intends to find out – but you won’t find it in the chrome store because Facebook has issued a takedown request.
Facebook doesn’t want you to know how their algorithm works. That will hardly be a shock to you or anyone else, but it is a serious problem. The algorithm is what Facebook uses to determine what you, or anyone else around the world, will see.
What it chooses to promote or bury has become increasingly important to our democracy. But Facebook doesn’t want you to know how it works.
Facebook Tracking Exposed (FTE) is a browser extension which intends to find out – it lets users compare their timeline posts against the potential chronological content, helping them to understand why some posts have been promoted, and others haven’t. It also allows comparative research, pooling data to help researchers try and reverse engineer the algorithm itself.
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So far, so great – but you won’t be able to find FTE in the chrome store because Facebook has issued a takedown on the basis on the basis of an alleged trademark infringement. Facebook does not want you to know how their algorithm works – how it controls the flow of information to billions of people.
To pretend the premise of Facebook’s trademark claim is reasonable for a second (it’s not likely – the ‘Facebook’ used in the name describes the purpose of the tool rather than who made it) the question becomes – is it reasonable for Facebook to use this as an excuse to continue to obfuscate their filtering of important information?
The answer, as all of the news around Cambridge Analytica is making clear, is that it absolutely is not. People looking to understand the platform they are using would find it very difficult to find without the ‘Facebook in the name’. But then, Facebook doesn’t want you to know how their algorithm works.
This is easy for Facebook to fix, they could revoke their infringement claim, and start taking on some genuine accountability. There is no guarantee that FTE will be able to perfectly reveal the exact workings of the algorithm – attempts to reverse engineer proprietary algorithms are difficult, and observations will always be partial and difficult to control and validate.
That doesn’t change the fact that companies like Facebook and Google need to be transparent about the ways they filter information. The information they do or don’t show people can affect opinions, and potentially even sway elections.
We are calling on Google to reinstate the application on the Chrome store and for Facebook to withdraw their request to remove the app. But, then, Facebook doesn’t want you to know how their algorithm works.