From 2015 to 2019, LinkedIn randomly varied the proportion of weak and strong contacts suggested to users by its “People You May Know” algorithm, the company’s system for recommending new connections to “link” to. Researchers at LinkedIn, M.I.T., Stanford and Harvard Business School then analyzed aggregate data from the tests in a study published this month in the “Science.”
In other words, users were used as virtual lab rats, subjected to changes in how the platform served their job-hunting and networking interests without their knowledge or consent. It would have been easy and ethical to alert users to this experiment and allow them to out out, but no. The New York Times, ethically inert as usual, writes, “Experts who study the societal impacts of computing said conducting long, large-scale experiments on people that could affect their job prospects, in ways that are invisible to them, raised questions about industry transparency and research oversight.”
Of course it was “experimentation on members.”
LinkedIn’s policy for outside researchers seeking to analyze company data states that those researchers will not be able to “experiment or perform tests on our members,” but no policy statement explicitly informs consumers that LinkedIn itself can experiment or perform tests on its members. “During the tests, people who clicked on the ‘People You May Know’ tool and looked at recommendations were assigned to different algorithmic paths,” the New York Times explains. ” Some of those ‘treatment variants,’ as the study called them, caused LinkedIn users to form more connections to people with whom they had only weak social ties. Other tweaks caused people to form fewer connections with weak ties.”
Then the Times adds, disingenuously, “Whether most LinkedIn members understand that they could be subject to experiments that may affect their job opportunities is unknown.” No, it’s just impossible to prove they didn’t know. LinkedIn knew damn well they didn’t know. I didn’t know, for example, not that I rely upon or trust LinkedIn in any way.
None of the social media platforms are trustworthy, and anyone who participates in them should just assume that they will abuse their power while deceiving users whenever they see profit in it. These are unethical Big Tech entities run by unethical, dishonest people. Interact with them accordingly, if you have to interact with them at all.