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Towards a Pragmatic Approach for studying Normative Recommender Systems

Binst, B., Vandenbroucke, H., Li, D., Puskas, I., Van der Elst, P., & Smets, A. (Accepted/In press). Towards a Pragmatic Approach for studying Normative Recommender Systems: Exploring Power Dynamics in Digital Platform Markets. In Proceedings of the the First Workshop on Normative Design and Evaluation of Recommender Systems.

Recommender systems (RSs) have become an integral part of digital platforms, helping users to navigate through the abundance of online content and services. This paper argues that the study of normative RSs should go beyond the mere conceptualization of normativity and examine the conditions and contextual factors that might foster normative RSs. RSs often operate within multisided markets, involving multiple stakeholders who influence and are influenced by the RS. Ideally, developers of RSs aim for value alignment among diverse stakeholders, fostering a win-win scenario. However, in practice, system providers hold more power over the design, often optimizing for their own objectives and neglecting the needs and values of other stakeholders. These imbalanced power dynamics in digital platform markets pose significant challenges to the design. This paper critically examines two key economic dynamics in digital media markets that challenge the development of normative RSs. The first hurdle describes the susceptibility of digital platform markets to lock-in and monopolization due to network effects, which skews the power balance in favor system. A second hurdle critically examines the pervasive \"attention economy\" and corresponding engagement-centric logic in the design of RSs that might diverge from explicit or long-term users' preferences despite the success in increasing engagement. To illustrate the importance of these dynamics in real-world RSs, we present how these hurdles manifest in the domains of video-on-demand and news media. In conclusion, this paper advocates for a more pragmatic approach to studying normative RSs by considering the two hurdles affecting the RS development in contemporary digital platform markets. Furthermore, it highlights the fruitfulness of this pragmatic approach by proposing policy recommendations to tackle normative challenges in RSs’ design.

Recommender Systems

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