Universität Zürich

IPMZ - Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research

Media Change & Innovation Division

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CH-8050 Zurich
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The Significance of Algorithmic Selection for Everyday Life

The case of Switzerland

This project empirically investigates the significance of automated algorithmic selection (AS) applications on the Internet for everyday life in Switzerland. It is the first countrywide, representative empirical study in the emerging interdisciplinary field of critical algorithm studies which assesses growing social, economic and political implications of algorithms in various life domains.

 

In digital societies marked by growing datafication, Internet-based applications that build on AS are already deeply embedded in everyday life. These automatic assignments of relevance to selected pieces of information are indispensable for extracting social and economic value from big and small data. Accordingly, applications operating on AS are constitutive for daily online routines such as search, recommendation, filtering, and scoring. Thereby, they are shaping how the world is perceived, how realities are constructed, and how people behave.

 

Multidisciplinary research on algorithms focusing on opportunities, social risks, ethical challenges or governance has so far predominantly been theoretical, without drawing on comprehensive empirical evidence. Studies that empirically show the extent to which AS applications are relied upon and what (subjective) significance they hold in everyday life are largely absent or limited to a specific application or service.

 

This project aims to fill this research gap by investigating the significance of AS applications in four central domains of everyday life: social and political orientation, recreation, commercial transactions, and socializing. A functional typology of AS applications and a classification of its associated risks, which resulted from our earlier research, serve as a starting point. By applying an innovative mixed-methods approach – comprising qualitative interviews and a representative Swiss online survey, combined with a passive metering (tracking) of Internet use (on mobile devices and desktop/laptop computers) – the project investigates the relative importance of AS applications and assesses individuals’ use and attitudes towards AS applications and its implications.

 

Beside detailed empirical insights into the significance of Internet-based AS applications in each domain, this comprehensive approach permits comparisons between socially differentiated uses (digital inequalities) and implications of AS in the four central domains of everyday life. Thereby, the project provides the empirical basis to weight the hitherto theoretically derived implications of AS and an informative basis for evidence-based public policies and governance choices.

 

The project is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.