TILT seminar: Towards platform observability

Date: Time: 12:00 Location: ONLINE Meeting

Time: 12:00 -13:30

Jeanette Hofmann and  Bernhard Rieder will talk about their recent paper on platform regulation and related algorithmic systems.

The growing power of digital platforms raises the question of democratic control or at least containment. In light of the transforming impact of platforms on markets, the public sphere, elections, and employment conditions, governments, and civil society alike are demanding more transparency and accountability. Shedding light on the principles and practices of algorithmic ordering promises to limit the power of platforms by subjecting their hidden operations to regulatory inspection. This article questions the popular image of an openable ‘black box’. Based on a critical reflection on transparency as a panacea for curtailing platform power, we propose the concept of observability to deal more systematically with the problem of studying complex algorithmic systems. We set out three broad principles as regulatory guidelines for making platforms more accountable. These principles concern the normative and analytical scope, the empirical and temporal dimension, and the necessary capacities for learning and knowledge generation.

Rieder, B. & Hofmann, J. (2020). Towards platform observability. Internet Policy Review, 9(4)


Jeanette Hofmann is professor of Internet politics at the Freie Universität Berlin. She heads research groups at Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin and at the Weizenbaum Institute for  Networked Society, which deal with the politics of digitalisation and democracy. She is also a founding director of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society.

Bernhard Rieder is Associate Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam and a collaborator with the Digital Methods Initiative. His research focuses on the history, theory, and politics of software and in particular on the role algorithms play in the production of knowledge and culture. This work includes the development, application, and analysis of computational research methods and the investigation of political and economic challenges posed by large online platforms.

Host: Bo Zhao

* For more information regarding this event please contact: Heidi van Veen