Key elements of the new Flattr – the all-knowing, privacy-friendly algorithm · 2017-06-19 13:00 by Laura Dornheim
The new Flattr is completely automated, meaning that it flattrs your favorite content for you based on the attention you give it. This is done through our smart algorithm, but how does it really work? What does the algorithm know? What does it tell us? Let’s take a dive into automation, algorithm and privacy!
As described in the last post, we realized quite a while ago that to make Flattr more convenient, we needed to make it easier to use. So the goal became to make it automatic. Of course, your flattrs should still reflect what you care about, like, consume and engage with. So the challenge was to create a profound connection between what you give attention to, engage with and flattr. We knew we would need to connect it to what you do – more precisely, what you do in your browser – something that is, and should be, very private.
We believe in privacy!
Most companies do not feel as strongly about privacy as we do. Au contraire, they want to know as much as possible about who you are and what you do so they can use all this data and turn it into additional profit. For us, this is unacceptable. We have been and will always offer our services in the most privacy-friendly way. So how would we tackle the challenge of making your flattrs personal, but keeping your personal data private? Quite simple: by keeping your private data on your own device. It is possible to locally, on your device, figure out what to flattr. Locally measuring in detail what you do in your browser is not a problem if we never send that data anywhere else – which we don’t, of course! With the Flattr extension running locally in your browser, it can collect and measure everything needed to determine which content you engage with the most. This data is then used to decide what to flattr. To make a transaction and send money to people who created the content, we need nothing but the URL. Only these URLs are sent to us; no other data relating to your browsing behavior is sent. So yes, you can provide personalized services without invading privacy.
The all-knowing, privacy-friendly algorithm
It’s true, the Flattr extension knows your browsing activity. In fact, it needs to know as much as possible, so it can make the best-informed decisions about which sites it flattrs for you. But by keeping the information and algorithm on your device, the solution is as privacy friendly as it gets. The algorithm is a part of the extension that we know will be continuously improved. This means that trying to describe how it works right now would make this blogpost out-of-date very quickly. So let’s instead explain how we think.
How we measure engagement
As you now know, we want a flattr to happen when you consume something that receives enough attention and engagement. This is done through the extension, which registers when you engage with content (meaning you actively give it attention). Let’s use a news article as an example. The algorithm measures the time you spend on the page as a basic metric. But just time spent on a page is not enough to know if you are actually paying attention to the content, or if you got up and went to the coffee machine. So the extension uses other information to understand this e.g. if the window is active and in front, if you have scrolled the page recently and if the mouse pointer has moved or if you moved the page with the keyboard. This to understand when to register attention.
Once enough attention has been gathered, the extension flattrs the URL. The exact threshold is set differently for different types of content, e.g. text versus video. Other visits to the site, earlier flattrs and other metrics. We plan to make these differentiations even more granular to reflect all the different kinds of content and consumption patterns.
These are of course simplified examples, but they hopefully give you an idea of how we work and also why the new Flattr extension needs to register these quite personal data points. Let us emphasize again that we regard your privacy with the utmost importance and ensure that your data stays on your own device and is not sent anywhere.