The Australian Ad Observatory plugin improves collective understandings of advertisements served on social media.
The use of custom targeted advertising, known as ‘dark ads’ poses a host of potential social harms, from the re-introduction of historical forms of discriminating, to the propagation of racist or gender stereotyping, and the spread of false and harmful information. Beyond these potential harms, we know very little about how advertising is targeted to users on social platforms like Facebook, largely due to a lack of independent data as to the scope and kinds of advertising activity conducted on the platform. The Australian Ad Observatory project brings together researchers from Australian universities within the ADM+S Centre to develop strategies for addressing the potential harms posed by ‘dark ads’ and provide some accountability and transparency mechanisms for targeted advertising. The project uses a ‘data donation’ approach that involves you and other members of the general public in Australia in the research. Participation involves you donating advertising that is visible in your Facebook newsfeed into a public dataset of targeted advertising materials managed by our research team. The dataset will be used by our team, and in the spirit of our data donation philosophy also shared as a public dataset for the purpose of enabling additional research into the nature of online targeted advertising. As a public dataset the data may be accessed and used by third-parties for any number of purposes, however as no personal identifying information will be collected meaning the risks of misuse or harm arising from such misuse are negligible.
As part of the installation process, we ask you to provide some general demographic information (including age, gender, overall location, etc.). None of this information can be used to personally identify you; it will be used only to examine general demographic patterns in the data we gather.
Once you have installed the browser plugin it will identify sponsored advertising content that you encounter while using Facebook. The plugin takes a snapshot of this advertising content (including images, videos, and Facebook WAIST targeting information) and sends it back to a central server, allowing us to build an independent archive of advertising materials that are shown to Facebook users. Any impact on your own use of your computer and Facebook will be minimal, the plugin cannot access any of your Facebook data, nor capture any non-advertising content such as status updates from friends. When an ad and its targeting information are collected, you will be notified through visible text annotations that are automatically visibly tagged to the relevant targeted advertisements within your Facebook News Feed. You may then use the plugin's 'dashboard' feature to review the donated targeted advertisement and its targeting information from within the plugin's "Dashboard" features, which provides you with a full list of ads and targeting information that your plugin has donated to the research project. Through the collection of the donated advertisment data, the research project will benefit our understanding of platform-based advertising and enable independent research into the role that this algorithmically targeted advertising plays in society. Outcomes from this research will be published from time to time on the project’s page at https://www.admscentre.org.au/adobservatory/.
Your participation in this research project is entirely voluntary. If you do agree to participate you can withdraw from the research project without comment or penalty. To withdraw, simply disable or uninstall the plugin from your browser. Once you do so, no new data will be gathered, but we will retain the data you have already provided as we cannot trace this back to you. Your decision to participate or not participate will in no way impact upon your current or future relationship with QUT.
All information reported by the browser plugin is stored only against a computer-generated ID that cannot be traced back to you: it will not be possible to identify you at any stage of the research, because personally identifying information is not sought in any of the demographic questions we are asking in relation to these forms of advertising.
We invite you to participate if you are currently residing in Australia, are a user of Facebook, and are aged 18 or older.