Understanding Echo Chambers in E-commerce Recommender Systems

by   Yingqiang Ge, et al.

Personalized recommendation benefits users in accessing contents of interests effectively. Current research on recommender systems mostly focuses on matching users with proper items based on user interests. However, significant efforts are missing to understand how the recommendations influence user preferences and behaviors, e.g., if and how recommendations result in echo chambers. Extensive efforts have been made in examining the phenomenon in online media and social network systems. Meanwhile, there are growing concerns that recommender systems might lead to the self-reinforcing of user's interests due to narrowed exposure of items, which may be the potential cause of echo chamber. In this paper, we aim to analyze the echo chamber phenomenon in Alibaba Taobao – one of the largest e-commerce platforms in the world. Echo chamber means the effect of user interests being reinforced through repeated exposure to similar contents. Based on the definition, we examine the presence of echo chamber in two steps. First, we explore whether user interests have been reinforced. Second, we check whether the reinforcement results from the exposure of similar contents. Our evaluations are enhanced with robust metrics, including cluster validity and statistical significance. Experiments are performed on extensive collections of real-world data consisting of user clicks, purchases, and browse logs from Alibaba Taobao. Evidence suggests the tendency of echo chamber in user click behaviors, while it is relatively mitigated in user purchase behaviors. Insights from the results guide the refinement of recommendation algorithms in real-world e-commerce systems.


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