Universität Zürich

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Making sense of algorithmic profiling: user perceptions on Facebook


Büchi, Moritz /

Fosch Villaronga, Eduard /

Lutz, Christoph /

Tamò-Larrieux, Aurelia /

Velidi, Shruthi

Information, Communication & Society [Online first]. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2021.1989011

Algorithmic profiling has become increasingly prevalent in many social fields and practices, including finance, marketing, law, cultural consumption and production, and social engagement. Although researchers have begun to investigate algorithmic profiling from various perspectives, socio-technical studies of algorithmic profiling that consider users’ everyday perceptions are still scarce. In this article, we expand upon existing user-centered research and focus on people’s awareness and imaginaries of algorithmic profiling, specifically in the context of social media and targeted advertising. We conducted an online survey geared toward understanding how Facebook users react to and make sense of algorithmic profiling when it is made visible. The methodology relied on qualitative accounts as well as quantitative data from 292 Facebook users in the United States and their reactions to their algorithmically inferred ‘Your Interests’ and ‘Your Categories’ sections on Facebook. The results illustrate a broad set of reactions and rationales to Facebook’s (public-facing) algorithmic profiling, ranging from shock and surprise, to accounts of how superficial – and in some cases, inaccurate – the profiles were. Taken together with the increasing reliance on Facebook as critical social infrastructure, our study highlights a sense of algorithmic disillusionment requiring further research.