How Intermediaries Affect User Choice in News and Commerce

Susan Athey, David Blei 2016 - 2018

How Intermediaries Affect User Choice in News and Commerce

Access to digital information involves intermediaries. For online news, these are web pages and apps provided by news organizations, search engines, news aggregators, portals, and social media. For shopping, intermediaries are primarily e-commerce websites and apps. In such settings, users choose from a large set of alternatives, but the effective alternatives at a point in time are limited by the options presented on a web page or mobile screen. This project develops new methods for estimating user preferences as well as product characteristics from data about user choices, taking into account what options were presented (e.g. the links on the web page they visit). We build on recently developed computational methods for large‐scale Bayesian models, adapting the methods to incorporate the specific features of web browsing. We further incorporate insights from economics about how to ensure that estimates reflect fundamental preferences on the part of the users (causality versus correlation). We use the estimates to make counterfactual predictions about questions such as, what would happen if intermediaries changed the way they select news. This helps uncover the forces that shape news consumption today as well as incentives faced by news organizations in the future. We also consider applications to e-commerce.

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Susan Athey

Senior Fellow, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research
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Susan Athey

Senior Fellow, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research
Professor of Economics (by courtesy)
Susan Athey’s research is in the areas of industrial organization, microeconomic theory, and applied econometrics. Her current research focuses on the design of auction-based marketplaces and the economics of the internet, primarily on online advertising and the economics of the news media. She has also studied dynamic mechanisms and games with incomplete information, comparative statics under uncertainty, and econometric methods for analyzing auction models.