The initiative will leverage crowdsourced data to study platforms’ influence on individuals and society; will also focus on public policy solutions
(JUNE 13, 2023) -- Over the past decade, independent public interest research has played an outsized role scrutinizing the technology industry’s impact on society, and also guiding legislative solutions.
But this critical ecosystem is under threat, with funding gaps and aggressive litigation by big platforms hampering vital work.
Today, Mozilla is announcing a new initiative to fill this gap, produce independent investigations, and help inform better public policy: The Open Source Research and Investigations (OSRI) team.
This new team comes at a time when platforms and their AI systems are growing even more prevalent and powerful, and as dozens of countries around the world prepare for 2024 elections.
OSRI’s work will largely be community-driven, leveraging crowdsourced data donations — a novel and effective approach in the public interest research field. The inner workings of TikTok, YouTube, and other platforms are opaque. Adaptive algorithms can be notoriously difficult to study, requiring novel approaches to research that center the real experiences of people alongside platform algorithms. Leveraging the collective experiences of real people can provide a necessary window into how platforms operate.
OSRI will build on Mozilla's past investigations into tech platforms and their impact on individuals and society. And the team will continue the tradition of Mozilla research catalyzing change: For example, Mozilla's past YouTube research was cited in the EU’s Digital Service Act process. Mozilla's past research into election disinformation in Kenya spurred Twitter to take action. And Mozilla's past research into TikTok galvanized the platform to introduce new features and remove harmful content.
Says Becca Ricks, Head of Open Source Research and Investigations at Mozilla: “Technology platforms and the AI systems that power them have an immense effect on the world we live in. Yet the independent watchdogs who scrutinize them — who are already under-resourced — are now facing further funding and legal barriers.”
Ricks continues: “At a time when transparency into these systems is virtually absent, and regulation limited, Mozilla will use a community-driven approach to study large tech platforms. We will leverage data donation approaches to research — alongside open source methods and technical tools — to unmask how these systems operate and influence around the world.”
At a time when transparency into these systems is virtually absent, and regulation limited, Mozilla will use a community-driven approach to study large tech platforms.
Becca Ricks, Head of Open Source Research and Investigations at Mozilla
Two initial focuses
One of OSRI’s first projects will be bringing crowdsourced research to TikTok, a platform whose recommendation FYP algorithm remain startlingly opaque. The team will also develop new methods and build new tools — powered by machine learning and computer vision — to better scrutinize video content on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. Currently, it's difficult for researchers to collect and analyze data about these videos at scale.
OSRI will also focus on platform integrity amid elections, especially in contexts outside the U.S. and in non-English speaking countries. Historically, these countries have received far less resourcing from platforms to combat election interference. OSRI will develop standards that platforms must meet amid elections — no matter their geography.
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September 2021 | Inside The Shadowy World Of Disinformation For Hire In Kenya
September 2021 | Broken Promises: TikTok and the German Election