Leave No User Behind: Towards Improving the Utility of Recommender Systems for Non-mainstream Users

R.Z. Li, J. Urbano and A. Hanjalic
ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining, 103-111, 2021.


In a collaborative-filtering recommendation scenario, biases in the data will likely propagate in the learned recommendations. In this paper we focus on the so-called mainstream bias: the tendency of a recommender system to provide better recommendations to users who have a mainstream taste, as opposed to non-mainstream users. We propose NAECF, a conceptually simple but effective idea to address this bias. The idea consists of adding an autoencoder (AE) layer when learning user and item representations with text-based Convolutional Neural Networks. The AEs, one for the users and one for the items, serve as adversaries to the process of minimizing the rating prediction error when learning how to recommend. They enforce that the specific unique properties of all users and items are sufficiently well incorporated and preserved in the learned representations. These representations, extracted as the bottlenecks of the corresponding AEs, are expected to be less biased towards mainstream users, and to provide more balanced recommendation utility across all users. Our experimental results confirm these expectations, significantly improving the recommendations for nonmainstream users while maintaining the recommendation quality for mainstream users. Our results emphasize the importance of deploying extensive content-based features, such as online reviews, in order to better represent users and items to maximize the debiasing effect.