Algopol - an application to decipher Facebook

How do Facebook® users use their accounts? Are they aware of what they are doing? The research programme called Algopol [standing for Algorithm Policy] is funded by the French national research assessment agency (ANR) has begun its investigations in this field. Interactions interviewed Guilhem Fouetillou, a UTC graduate, co-founder and Director for Strategy and Innovation with Linkfluence, a partner to the project.

Algopol - an application to decipher Facebook

"To access Facebook® data, we created a viral "app" that anyone can download, enabling the user to rebuild the entire history of a Facebook® account and to extract a dynamic, cartographic representation" says Guilhem Fouetillou. The application, developed by Stéphane Raux, a PhD student working with Linkfluence, generates a map that represents the "friends" and the interactions! The comments, the "likes", the messages, the tags, etc. We can observe the user's communities in terms of proximity with the user's account. "What we have is a sort of kinematic scheme of Facebook sociability", summarizes Stéphane.

Interactions - So, how does information circulate on Facebook®?

First point, all the data we use - and it is only for research purposes - is rendered anonymous. The Algopol partners: Linkfluence, the Centre for Analysis and Social Mathematics [Centre d'analyse et de mathématiques sociales (CAMS, CNRS/EHESS)], Orange Labs France Telecom and the Laboratory for Algorithmic Computer Science, ... [Laboratoire d'informatique algorithmique, fondements et applications (LIAFA)] - cannot access the accounts without the users' formal permission. To date we are talking about more than 10 000 volunteers! These volunteers can visualize and parameter their cartography and its evolution over time. "We want to test several hypotheses, notably related to circulation of information between private and private spheres. How, for example, is a public sphere built from interactions between private spheres?" says Guilhem Fouetillou. The volunteers are invited to fill out a questionnaire. This allows the research team to analyze how aware the users are with respect to Facebook® practice. They can also be contacted directly by the research scientist Irène Bastard (doing her doctorate with Orange Labs and Telecom ParisTech so as to take the analyses to more detailed levels of investigation. The project is planned for 3 years, with a budget allocation of 428 000€; Algopol has recently finished gathering the data and is currently starting the phase for data processing. The objective is to create mathematical models capable of simulating, for example, how a piece of information circulates over the Facebook® network.

From user data to client files

Another feature of the project - which carries a more political connotation - demonstrates the absolutely phenomenal quantity of information that Internauts leave on Facebook®, Twitter® and other social networks and which can enable certain operators to build very accurate client files. Most of these services are American. "From a purely academic point of view, as French, it is nigh impossible to have access to anonymous data, contrary ti what we hear about the research teals at the University of Stanford, for example". Hence the need to use an ""app" that can be freely downloaded, allowing them to enter the Facebook sphere. "The imbalance is enormous. The all-powerful situation of the USA raises problems, since research on usage and personal data constitutes one of the bases for economic growth tomorrow and many start-ups will grow in this area", surmises Guilhem Fouetillou. By taking part in this sort of research, Linkfluence is staying to the forefront of competition.