Vacancy: Data Scientist – Personalized Communication, UvA

The Institute for Information Law (IViR) is part of the Law Faculty of the University of Amsterdam, the data scientist will work as part of a multidisciplinary team of legal and communication scientists, led by Prof. dr. Natali Helberger and Prof. dr. Claes de Vreese

Data scientist position
@ the Personalized Communication Project


The Institute for Information Law (IViR) is part of the Law Faculty of the University of Amsterdam, and for the past 25 years one of the leading centres in Europe and worldwide in research in Information Law. IViR is host to an international team of more than 35 researchers that conduct multidisciplinary research for national and European funding organizations (NWO, DFG, ERC), European institutions (European Commission, European Parliament, Council of Europe), international organisations and national governments and regulatory authorities.

The data scientist will work as part of a multidisciplinary team of legal and communication scientists, led by Prof. dr. Natali Helberger and Prof. dr. Claes de Vreese. The team will operate in the larger structures of a research cooperation between the Institute for Information Law and the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) to conduct research into the shift from public to Personalised communication in the areas of politics, commerce and health (“Personalised Communication”).

The term Personalised Communication captures the fundamental change in, and challenges of, communication today: On the one hand, profiling and targeting users with customized messages can offer a solution to “digital” challenges, such as information overload, the resulting attention scarcity, and the fierce competition for users’ loyalty. Through Personalised news content, search results and apps, consumers can be addressed individually to match their consumption patterns and profiles; health information can be targeted and shared to enhance specific life styles; political information can be adjusted to individual voter profiles. On the other hand, Personalised communication can lead to manipulated or biased communication that, in the worst case, deprives users from access to more meaningful or more diverse information. And the personalization of information offers unprecedented opportunities for abuse by stereotyping, discriminating and sorting the society into virtual profiles.

There are many questions surrounding the shift towards personalization. Does more choice in the information environment lead to a disintegrated, self-centered public sphere, extreme opinions, and polarized electorates? Or does Personalised communication enhance individual knowledge and citizen engagement? Does Personalised and customized marketing lead to better consumer choices or does it lead to manipulation and feelings of privacy violations? And how do citizens develop strategies to cope with these developments? Finally, what is the potential for abuse, manipulation and discriminatory differentiation?

Job / Project Description

The Personalised Communications project uses a globally unique dataset to find answers to the questions above. The data scientist will be charged with performing empirical work on this dataset.

The Personalised Communications project has taken a unique and unprecedented approach to do empirical work of algorithmic filtering and recommendation systems. Rather than trying to reverse engineer algorithmic black boxes, via the use of, for example, sock puppets, the project relies on the contribution of approximately 1600 individuals, who share some of their browsing data with us. Using custom built technology, the project captures browsing data through a proxy, when users visit any of the approximately 300 URLs on a pre-defined whitelist. This data includes request and response headers and bodies, cookies, editorial content, ads, search results and social media news feeds.

This dataset, after the removal of sensitive personal data, will be put in use in various ways. Dashboard-like applications will give insight into the near-live monitoring of certain trends in the data (such as, for example exposure of our participants to different news sources in social media news feeds). Ad-hoc, custom datasets, compiled from the raw data will be used to answer specific research questions (such as the extent of cookie-syncing across various online tracking services).

The task of the researcher is to collaborate with the legal and communications researchers to use this dataset to conduct empirical studies on:

  • –  online tracking and dataveillance,
  • –  user profiling,
  • –  the personalization of news services,
  • –  behavioural ad targeting,
  • –  price discrimination in e-commerce services,
  • –  political micro-targeting.TasksAs a member of an interdisciplinary team, the role of the data scientist is to:
  • –  transform unstructured data into structured datasets
  • –  ensure the privacy of our respondents by taking steps to filter sensitive data,
  • –  develop custom queries on the raw data that yield ad-hoc, topic-specific datasets for furtheranalysis.
  • –  develop dashboard like web applications for internal and public use,
  • –  formulate and implement new, inventive research methodologies to use the data to help totest theories, in collaboration with the communications and/or legal researchers,
  • –  publish and present the findings at international conferences,
  • –  contribute to publications in cooperation with othersRequirementsThe candidates should:
  •   Have an interest in the topic of the project.
  •   Have a background in computer science, statistics, econometrics, mathematics or physics,analysing large web-based datasets, OR
  •   Have a communication science, media studies, sociology, background and a proven solidexperience with handling and analysing large amounts of data.
  •   Fluency in at least one programming language (such as Python, Ruby, Java, PHP, C, or C++),statistical package (such as R or SAS), and big data service environment (ElasticSearch, HADOOP,or comparable services) is a must.
  •   Experience in data visualization is an advantage.
  •   Experience in Natural Language processing is an advantage.
  •   Have the ability, willingness, and commitment to do autonomous work in a small interdisciplinary team of social and legal scientists.
  •   Preferably have experience with writing grant applications and project proposals.
  •   Have an excellent written and spoken command of English.
  •   PhD candidates who are due to submit their dissertation before 30 June 2016 are welcome to apply.
  •   We are an equal opportunity employer. We encourage applicants from all backgrounds to apply,regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, or disability status.
  • Closing date: 30 June 2016

Organisational Unit: Faculty of Law – Institute for Information Law (IViR)

Level of Education: MSc or Doctorate

Scope of work: Full time (30-38) or part time.

Salary indication: € 3,037 to € 4,462 gross per month, depending on level of education and experience, based on 38 hours per week

Further Information: Questions about the project content should be addressed to Balazs Bodo (

You may find the following websites useful:

  •   Universiteit van Amsterdam
  •   IViR, the Institute for Information Law
  •   ASCoR, the Amsterdam School of Communication Research
  •   The Personalised Commincations project page


The positions ideally starts on 1 August 2016, and is for minimum 1 year. Depending on your knowledge and experience, your monthly gross salary will range between € 3,037 and € 4,462 scale 10 or 11 according to the Collective Employment Agreement of the Dutch Universities based on a full-time appointment.

We offer a pension scheme, a holiday allowance of 8% per year and flexible employment conditions. Conditions are based on the Collective Labour Agreement of the Dutch Universities.

Job Application

The deadline for applications is 30 June 2016 at 9:00 AM CET. Please state the vacancy number in the subject line of your application. To apply for this position, please send at least the following documents in English by e-mail to

  •   Motivation letter. Please clearly indicate the position you apply for.
  •   Curriculum vitae and publication list.
  •   Proof of your MSc, or PhD degree. If you have not completed your degree at the time of application, please provide a statement from your supervisor confirming the expected date of completion of your degree.
  • Please send all your documents in PDF or doc(x) format. Only complete applications will be considered.

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