The platform data crisis and how to solve it
Technology platforms are central to modern life—and pose unprecedented challenges for society. Independent study and oversight are essential for understanding platform harms, including intrusive privacy practices, proliferating misinformation, and barriers to competition. But there is a platform data crisis: researchers, journalists, and regulators lack the tools needed to hold platforms accountable. In the first part of this seminar, I will describe the platform data crisis and discuss recent industry and government proposals to address it. These proposals would make meaningful progress, but also have significant limitations in the types of research and researchers they would enable. In the second part of the seminar, I will present Rally and WebScience, a new platform and toolkit for conducting real-world platform accountability research. Rally facilitates crowd-sourced, browser-based research studies, and WebScience provides reusable functionality for implementing studies. We launched Rally and WebScience in 2021, and they are already being used for multiple platform accountability projects.