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Accountable Systems and Google Maps

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Abstract: Users perception of geographic reality heavily depend on digital mapping tools. This is particularly evident for transportation recommender systems, which are used to estimate travel distance, select the appropriate form of transportation and provide routing recommendations. This talk focuses on transportation recommender systems and analyses how predictions of transportation distance influence users perception of distance and transportation choices.

We will discuss how such systems can be more accountable to their users, analyse biases in the Google Maps navigation recommender system and conduct a qualitative (n=36) and quantitative study (n=521) on user perceptions of travel distance. Our analysis suggests that Google Maps systematically under-estimates driving time which has an impact on how users perceive distance. In conclusion we present the results of potential software accountability mechanisms to make Google Maps more accountable to its users and discuss limitations of our approach.

Bio: Dr. Ben Wagner is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Privacy & Sustainable Computing Lab at Vienna University of Economics and Business. He previously worked at the Technical University of Berlin, European University Viadrina and the University of Pennsylvania. He is part of the Privacy & Usability training network and a member of the ENISA PSG advisory board. His research focuses on technology, human rights and accountable information systems. Ben holds a PhD in Political and Social Sciences from European University Institute in Florence.

This talk is part of the Computer Laboratory Systems Research Group Seminar series.

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