This project started in 2016 by Claudio Agosti, with crucial technical support at the early stage from Alberto Granzotto. Throughout the years it expanded to become the first generalized toolkit for adversarial algorithm accountability known as Tracking Exposed.
facebook.tracking.exposed (fbtrex) was the first worldwide data donation project. It enabled pioneering researches and inspired many other organizations to replicate the approach. It was also fundamental in the first sock-puppet algorithm analysis on Facebook, recording evidences and patterns only explained by whistleblowers years later.
The main challenge was resisting the anti-scraping techniques implemented by Facebook, and the design was solid enough to be maintained for 5 years but resilience comes with a cost.
fbtrex was the skeleton upon which the equivalent system to analyze YouTube (in 2018), PornHub (in 2019), Amazon (in 2019) and TikTok (in 2020) was built. The software was always published in AGPL-3 license on git, but it stopped being maintained at the end of 2021, when the Tracking Exposed project had a refocusing moment and became AI Forensics in 2023.
Below is a list of resources produced by researchers using the tool:
- Political advertising exposed: tracking Facebook ads in the 2021 Dutch elections by Davide Beraldo, Stefania Milan, Jeroen de Vos, Claudio Agosti, Bruno Nadalic Sotic, Rens Vliegenthart, Sanne Kruikemeier, Lukas P Otto, Susan A. M. Vermeer, Xiaotong Chu, Fabio Votta. (Policyreview, 03/2021)
- Analysis of Political Ads in Digital Campaigns (PAADC): monitoring and analysing Facebook sponsored content during Dutch general elections. (De Volkskrant, 2021)
- at Transmediale Affects Ex-Machina: Unboxing Social Data Algorithms Conventional media have long filtered information and influenced public opinion. In the age of social media, this process has become algorithmic and targeted, separating the whole of society into thousands of small filter bubbles that construct collective orientations and pilot viral phenomena. This panel examines how machine learning and obscure algorithms analyze and manipulate individual affects into political sentiments, eventually amplifying class, gender, and racial bias ― with Claudio Agosti, Ariana Dongus, Nayantara Ranganathan, Caroline Sinders. Organized by KIM | HfG Karlsruhe. (site)
- at EDPS How to unmask and fight online manipulation. Organized by the working group against misinformation. We highlight how research can use it and assess proper responsibilities to the actors in the misinformation chain. Platform are not neutral, we were looking how algorithm affects the information flows.
- at CPDP Safeguarding elections an international problem with no international solution a roundtable Coordinated by TacticalTech. ― There is a growing body of research into data-driven elections worldwide and the international nature of the data and elections industry has been highlighted: from international platforms, to strategists in one country advising political groups in another, to paid targeted ads across borders. ― Ailidh Callander, Claudio Agosti, Paul Bernal, Victoria Peuvrelle (conference website).
- at PrivacyCamp Towards real safeguards: Data driven political campaigns and EU election. This panel aims to evaluate potential preventive mechanisms such as Facebook algorithmic transparency around online political targeting, EU Commission’s Action Plan against Disinformation, awareness raising on current and future campaigning practices, as well as efforts to protect media pluralism and freedom. ― With Fanny Hidvegi, Elda Brogi, Claudio Agosti, Josh Smith and Eleonora Nestola
- Personalization algorithms and elections: breaking free of the filter bubble by Stefania Milan, Claudio Agosti (Policyreview, 02/2019)
- Reviewing Italian Election Data and How to keep your bot alive DMI UvA Winter School An experiment with a dozen of scholars: Giovanni Rossetti, Bilel Benbouzid, Davide Beraldo, Giulia Corona, Leonardo Sanna, Iain Emsley, Fatma Yalgin, Hannah Vischer, Victor Pak, Mathilde Simon, Victor Bouwmeester, Yao Chen, Sophia Melanson, Hanna Jemmer, Patrick Kapsch, Claudio Agosti, Jeroen de Vos. (slides)
- Datathon organized by Berlin Data Science Social Good data scientists analyzed one full year of fbtrex data. We did a privacy assessment and defined minimization and confidentiality agreement. Berlin DSSG, Final presentation (slides)
- Opinion piece When corporation pretend to help: Why we need data activism Claudio Agosti, DatActivism blog, 05/2019
- The invisible curation of content | Facebook’s News Feed and our information diets. Spanish version, Abstract, Data. by Renata Ávila, Juan Ortiz Freuler, Craig Fagan, and Claudio Agosti. (WebFoundation, 04/2018)
- Fairness in online social network timelines: Measurements, models and mechanism design by Eduardo Hargreaves, Claudio Agosti, Daniel Menasche, Giovanni Neglia, Alexandre Reiffers-Masson, and Eitan Altman (Performance Evaluation, 11/2018)
- Biases in the Facebook News Feed: a Case Study on the Italian Elections by Eduardo Hargreaves, Claudio Agosti, Daniel Menasche, Giovanni Neglia, Alexandre Reiffers-Masson, and Eitan Altman (International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining, 10/2018)
- Facebook’s Influence on Italy: Tracking Exposed Experiment by Fabio Chiusi and Claudio Agosti (Privacy International for Tactical Tech, 09/2018)
- Visibilidade no Facebook: Modelos, Medições e Implicações. (Pdf) by Brasnam, Eduardo Hargreaves, Daniel Sadoc Menasché, Giovanni Neglia, and Claudio Agosti (Anais do VII Brazilian Workshop on Social Network Analysis and Mining, 07/2018)
- By Arikia Millikan, an outstanding effort in writing a 20 page document explaining the challenges, vision and goal of working in algorithm accountability. She was the first trying to make a sense of how to have an impact in this field.
- At Chaos Computer Congress: Analyze the Facebook algorithm and reclaim algorithm sovereignty, (slides). Facebook monopoly is an issue, but looking for replacements it is not enough. We want to develop critical judgment on algorithms, on why data politics matter and educate, raise awareness for a broad audience.