Google Research

Attribute-based Propensity for Unbiased Learning in Recommender Systems: Algorithm and Case Studies

26TH ACM SIGKDD Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (KDD) (2020) (to appear)


Many modern recommender systems train their models based on a large amount of implicit user feedback data. Due to the inherent bias in this data (e.g., position bias), learning from it directly can lead to suboptimal models. Recently, unbiased learning was proposed to address such problems by leveraging counterfactual techniques like inverse propensity weighting (IPW). In these methods, propensity scores estimation is usually limited to item's display position in a single user interface (UI).

In this paper, we generalize the traditional position bias model to an attribute-based propensity framework. Our methods estimate propensity scores based on offline data and allow propensity estimation across a broad range of implicit feedback scenarios, e.g., feedback beyond recommender system UI. We demonstrate this by applying this framework to three real-world large-scale recommender systems in Google Drive that serve millions of users. For each system, we conduct both offline and online evaluation. Our results show that the proposed framework is able to significantly improve upon strong production baselines across a diverse range of recommendation item types (documents, people-document pairs, and queries), UI layouts (horizontal, vertical, and grid layouts), and underlying learning algorithms (gradient boosted decision trees and neural networks), all without the need to intervene and degrade the user experience. The proposed models have been deployed in the production systems with ease since no serving infrastructure change is needed.

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