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The Advantage of Tolerating Failure

For technology users, particularly social media users, 2018 has been a year of awakening. The media began scratching the surface of the dangers of social media with the story of Russian partiesinfluencing the U.S. election. Soon after, a slew of reports followed with details of how Cambridge Analytica used social media data to influence votes in both the United Kingdom and the United States. People were suddenly exposed to the dangers of how easily social media and the algorithms underpinning social platforms can be used to influence other users, and we’re now seeing how widespread the practice has become. Harmless, everyday actions performed by millions of users, such as taking fun surveys, had suddenly become tools for unscrupulous data miners.

The investigation into the Cambridge Analytica scandal was a high point for awareness of privacy breaches in the social media community, but it certainly was not the first. In February 2018, Guillaume Chaslot, a former YouTube employee, went public with his study on YouTube’s algorithms, which found extreme bias in relation to the 2016 election. The study found that 84% of videos recommended by the algorithm were pro-Trump, with only 16% pro-Clinton. Meanwhile, Twitter came under attack as a documentary by Project Veritas purportedly proved political bias in its regulation of its users.

The push for better regulation with regard to how algorithms work and how to protect user privacy has already advanced, with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) governing online data privacy and use of user data having gone into effect in May 2018. However, we contend that while these efforts have been aimed at regulating user data, efforts must be made to regulate algorithms themselves.