In recent years, recommender systems have become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives, while they suffer from a high risk of being attacked due to the growing commercial and social values. Despite significant research progress in recommender attack and defense, there is a lack of a widely-recognized benchmarking standard in the field, leading to unfair performance comparison and limited credibility of experiments. To address this, we propose RecAD, a unified library aiming at establishing an open benchmark for recommender attack and defense. RecAD takes an initial step to set up a unified benchmarking pipeline for reproducible research by integrating diverse datasets, standard source codes, hyper-parameter settings, running logs, attack knowledge, attack budget, and evaluation results. The benchmark is designed to be comprehensive and sustainable, covering both attack, defense, and evaluation tasks, enabling more researchers to easily follow and contribute to this promising field. RecAD will drive more solid and reproducible research on recommender systems attack and defense, reduce the redundant efforts of researchers, and ultimately increase the credibility and practical value of recommender attack and defense. The project is released at https://github.com/gusye1234/recad.
Offline reinforcement learning (RL), a technology that offline learns a policy from logged data without the need to interact with online environments, has become a favorable choice in decision-making processes like interactive recommendation. Offline RL faces the value overestimation problem. To address it, existing methods employ conservatism, e.g., by constraining the learned policy to be close to behavior policies or punishing the rarely visited state-action pairs. However, when applying such offline RL to recommendation, it will cause a severe Matthew effect, i.e., the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, by promoting popular items or categories while suppressing the less popular ones. It is a notorious issue that needs to be addressed in practical recommender systems. In this paper, we aim to alleviate the Matthew effect in offline RL-based recommendation. Through theoretical analyses, we find that the conservatism of existing methods fails in pursuing users' long-term satisfaction. It inspires us to add a penalty term to relax the pessimism on states with high entropy of the logging policy and indirectly penalizes actions leading to less diverse states. This leads to the main technical contribution of the work: Debiased model-based Offline RL (DORL) method. Experiments show that DORL not only captures user interests well but also alleviates the Matthew effect. The implementation is available via https://github.com/chongminggao/DORL-codes.
Conversational recommendation systems (CRS) effectively address information asymmetry by dynamically eliciting user preferences through multi-turn interactions. Existing CRS widely assumes that users have clear preferences. Under this assumption, the agent will completely trust the user feedback and treat the accepted or rejected signals as strong indicators to filter items and reduce the candidate space, which may lead to the problem of over-filtering. However, in reality, users' preferences are often vague and volatile, with uncertainty about their desires and changing decisions during interactions. To address this issue, we introduce a novel scenario called Vague Preference Multi-round Conversational Recommendation (VPMCR), which considers users' vague and volatile preferences in CRS.VPMCR employs a soft estimation mechanism to assign a non-zero confidence score for all candidate items to be displayed, naturally avoiding the over-filtering problem. In the VPMCR setting, we introduce an solution called Adaptive Vague Preference Policy Learning (AVPPL), which consists of two main components: Uncertainty-aware Soft Estimation (USE) and Uncertainty-aware Policy Learning (UPL). USE estimates the uncertainty of users' vague feedback and captures their dynamic preferences using a choice-based preferences extraction module and a time-aware decaying strategy. UPL leverages the preference distribution estimated by USE to guide the conversation and adapt to changes in users' preferences to make recommendations or ask for attributes. Our extensive experiments demonstrate the effectiveness of our method in the VPMCR scenario, highlighting its potential for practical applications and improving the overall performance and applicability of CRS in real-world settings, particularly for users with vague or dynamic preferences.
Negative sampling has been heavily used to train recommender models on large-scale data, wherein sampling hard examples usually not only accelerates the convergence but also improves the model accuracy. Nevertheless, the reasons for the effectiveness of Hard Negative Sampling (HNS) have not been revealed yet. In this work, we fill the research gap by conducting thorough theoretical analyses on HNS. Firstly, we prove that employing HNS on the Bayesian Personalized Ranking (BPR) learner is equivalent to optimizing One-way Partial AUC (OPAUC). Concretely, the BPR equipped with Dynamic Negative Sampling (DNS) is an exact estimator, while with softmax-based sampling is a soft estimator. Secondly, we prove that OPAUC has a stronger connection with Top-K evaluation metrics than AUC and verify it with simulation experiments. These analyses establish the theoretical foundation of HNS in optimizing Top-K recommendation performance for the first time. On these bases, we offer two insightful guidelines for effective usage of HNS: 1) the sampling hardness should be controllable, e.g., via pre-defined hyper-parameters, to adapt to different Top-K metrics and datasets; 2) the smaller the $K$ we emphasize in Top-K evaluation metrics, the harder the negative samples we should draw. Extensive experiments on three real-world benchmarks verify the two guidelines.
Recommender systems deployed in real-world applications can have inherent exposure bias, which leads to the biased logged data plaguing the researchers. A fundamental way to address this thorny problem is to collect users' interactions on randomly expose items, i.e., the missing-at-random data. A few works have asked certain users to rate or select randomly recommended items, e.g., Yahoo!, Coat, and OpenBandit. However, these datasets are either too small in size or lack key information, such as unique user ID or the features of users/items. In this work, we present KuaiRand, an unbiased sequential recommendation dataset containing millions of intervened interactions on randomly exposed videos, collected from the video-sharing mobile App, Kuaishou. Different from existing datasets, KuaiRand records 12 kinds of user feedback signals (e.g., click, like, and view time) on randomly exposed videos inserted in the recommendation feeds in two weeks. To facilitate model learning, we further collect rich features of users and items as well as users' behavior history. By releasing this dataset, we enable the research of advanced debiasing large-scale recommendation scenarios for the first time. Also, with its distinctive features, KuaiRand can support various other research directions such as interactive recommendation, long sequential behavior modeling, and multi-task learning. The dataset and its news will be available at https://kuairand.com.
While personalization increases the utility of recommender systems, it also brings the issue of filter bubbles. E.g., if the system keeps exposing and recommending the items that the user is interested in, it may also make the user feel bored and less satisfied. Existing work studies filter bubbles in static recommendation, where the effect of overexposure is hard to capture. In contrast, we believe it is more meaningful to study the issue in interactive recommendation and optimize long-term user satisfaction. Nevertheless, it is unrealistic to train the model online due to the high cost. As such, we have to leverage offline training data and disentangle the causal effect on user satisfaction. To achieve this goal, we propose a counterfactual interactive recommender system (CIRS) that augments offline reinforcement learning (offline RL) with causal inference. The basic idea is to first learn a causal user model on historical data to capture the overexposure effect of items on user satisfaction. It then uses the learned causal user model to help the planning of the RL policy. To conduct evaluation offline, we innovatively create an authentic RL environment (KuaiEnv) based on a real-world fully observed user rating dataset. The experiments show the effectiveness of CIRS in bursting filter bubbles and achieving long-term success in interactive recommendation. The implementation of CIRS is available via https://github.com/chongminggao/CIRS-codes.
Recommender systems are usually developed and evaluated on the historical user-item logs. However, most offline recommendation datasets are highly sparse and contain various biases, which hampers the evaluation of recommendation policies. Existing efforts aim to improve the data quality by collecting users' preferences on randomly selected items (e.g., Yahoo! and Coat). However, they still suffer from the high variance issue caused by the sparsely observed data. To fundamentally solve the problem, we present KuaiRec, a fully-observed dataset collected from the social video-sharing mobile App, Kuaishou. The feedback of 1,411 users on almost all of the 3,327 videos is explicitly observed. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first real-world fully-observed dataset with millions of user-item interactions in recommendation. To demonstrate the advantage of KuaiRec, we leverage it to explore the key questions in evaluating conversational recommender systems. The experimental results show that two factors in traditional partially-observed data -- the data density and the exposure bias -- greatly affect the evaluation results. This entails the significance of our fully-observed data in researching many directions in recommender systems, e.g., the unbiased recommendation, interactive/conversational recommendation, and evaluation. We release the dataset and the pipeline implementation for evaluation at https://chongminggao.github.io/KuaiRec/.
With the increasingly fierce market competition, offering a free trial has become a potent stimuli strategy to promote products and attract users. By providing users with opportunities to experience goods without charge, a free trial makes adopters know more about products and thus encourages their willingness to buy. However, as the critical point in the promotion process, finding the proper adopters is rarely explored. Empirically winnowing users by their static demographic attributes is feasible but less effective, neglecting their personalized preferences. To dynamically match the products with the best adopters, in this work, we propose a novel free trial user selection model named SMILE, which is based on reinforcement learning (RL) where an agent actively selects specific adopters aiming to maximize the profit after free trials. Specifically, we design a tree structure to reformulate the action space, which allows us to select adopters from massive user space efficiently. The experimental analysis on three datasets demonstrates the proposed model's superiority and elucidates why reinforcement learning and tree structure can improve performance. Our study demonstrates technical feasibility for constructing a more robust and intelligent user selection model and guides for investigating more marketing promotion strategies.
Recommender systems exploit interaction history to estimate user preference, having been heavily used in a wide range of industry applications. However, static recommendation models are difficult to answer two important questions well due to inherent shortcomings: (a) What exactly does a user like? (b) Why does a user like an item? The shortcomings are due to the way that static models learn user preference, i.e., without explicit instructions and active feedback from users. The recent rise of conversational recommender systems (CRSs) changes this situation fundamentally. In a CRS, users and the system can dynamically communicate through natural language interactions, which provide unprecedented opportunities to explicitly obtain the exact preference of users. Considerable efforts, spread across disparate settings and applications, have been put into developing CRSs. Existing models, technologies, and evaluation methods for CRSs are far from mature. In this paper, we provide a systematic review of the techniques used in current CRSs. We summarize the key challenges of developing CRSs into five directions: (1) Question-based user preference elicitation. (2) Multi-turn conversational recommendation strategies. (3) Dialogue understanding and generation. (4) Exploitation-exploration trade-offs. (5) Evaluation and user simulation. These research directions involve multiple research fields like information retrieval (IR), natural language processing (NLP), and human-computer interaction (HCI). Based on these research directions, we discuss some future challenges and opportunities. We provide a road map for researchers from multiple communities to get started in this area. We hope this survey helps to identify and address challenges in CRSs and inspire future research.