Collaborative Ad Transparency: Promises and Limitations.


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Several targeted advertising platforms offer transparency mechanisms, but researchers and civil societies repeatedly showed that those have major limitations. In this paper, we propose a collaborative ad transparency method to infer, without the cooperation of ad platforms, the targeting parameters used by advertisers to target their ads. Our idea is to ask users to donate data about their attributes and the ads they receive and to use this data to infer the targeting attributes of an ad campaign. We propose a Maximum Likelihood Estimator based on a simplified Bernoulli ad delivery model. We first test our inference method through controlled ad experiments on Facebook. Then, to further investigate the potential and limitations of collaborative ad transparency, we propose a simulation framework that allows varying key parameters. We validate that our framework gives accuracies consistent with real-world observations such that the insights from our simulations are transferable to the real world. We then perform an extensive simulation study for ad campaigns that target a combination of two attributes. Our results show that we can obtain good accuracy whenever at least ten monitored users receive an ad. This usually requires a few thousand monitored users, regardless of population size. Our simulation framework is based on a new method to generate a synthetic population with statistical properties resembling the actual population, which may be of independent interest.
ad campaign,ad platforms,civil societies,collaborative ad transparency method,controlled ad experiments,extensive simulation study,inference method,maximum likelihood estimator,simplified Bernoulli ad delivery model,simulation framework,targeted advertising platforms,targeting parameters,transparency mechanisms
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