The Australian Ad Observatory Project
Focus Area(s): News & Media
Research Program: Data
The Ad Observatory develops and applies tools for observing how so-called ‘dark ads’ are targeted on Facebook. The goal is to respond to changes in the advertising environment by providing models for accountability and transparency of advertising targeted to individuals on social media. The current tool is limited to the use of Facebook on desktop and laptop computers. The Observatory team, however, has worked with different approaches on other platforms and is developing a mobile app that will collect ads from users.
To date we have over 1900 volunteers participating in the Facebook component of the project by installing the Observatory’s browser extension which allows them to share with us the sponsored content that appears in their news feeds. This participation has yielded more than 700,000 ad observations of more than 300,000 unique ads. These ads have, in turn, served as the basis for research projects on greenwashing and on the advertising of harmful products and services including: alcohol, gambling, ultra-processed foods, and financial services. Outputs so far include six documents including working papers, technical reports, and academic publications. The project has also received substantial media attention, resulting in stories by partner organisation ABC about illegal gambling ads and scam ads. It has also resulted in collaboration with organisations including CHOICE, the Consumer Policy Research Centre, the Alliance for Gambling Reform, and VicHealth. Project findings and approaches have been presented at international conferences and we continue to develop partnerships both nationally and internationally.
For more information, and to join the Australian Ad Observatory,