Dark Ads Hackathon team presenting to Hack/Hackers group

ADM+S Dark Ads Hackathon winners share new methods for better transparency in online advertising

Author Kathy Nickels
Date 28 November 2022

Hacks/Hackers recently hosted the winning team of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated-Decision Making and Society (ADM+S) Dark Ads Hackathon at ABC Southbank to share their idea for identifying discriminatory patterns in online advertising data.

The idea presented by the multi-disciplinary team has the potential to provide better tools for informing policy, advancing public awareness, and building advocacy for vulnerable groups who are targeted by predatory advertising.

The Hackathon team’s approach draws on data gathered from the Australian Ad Observatory dataset (500,000+ ads donated by 2000 Australian Facebook users) to examine “why am I seeing this?” (WAIST) data, alongside other demographic indicators like income, postcode, and age, to identify discriminatory patterns such as proxy and price discrimination.

Members of Hacks/Hackers and the Hackathon team discussed how the methods could be used to identify advertisement practices across a range of harmful industries such as predatory consumer financial products, alcohol, gambling, and unhealthy foods. The innovative approach and methods developed by the Hackathon team can also be applied to other contexts, for example, to trace illegal advertising practices such as the promotion of vape products to young people.

Questions from the Hacks/Hackers group sparked conversations from a journalistic point of view on sampling vulnerable communities, the value of engaging particular demographic groups, and sharing narratives of the lived experience of predatory advertisements.

Dr Kelly Lewis, research fellow at the ADM+S Centre, Monash University is one of the eight Hackathon team members. She said that presenting to members of the Hacks/Hackers community was a meaningful way for the team to engage with a range of ideas and perspectives.

“The feedback we received provides a valuable resource for us to draw on as we continue to develop our approach for greater online advertising accountability. We would like to thank Hacks/Hackers for this opportunity”, said Dr Lewis.

Hackathon Team: Dr Kelly Lewis, Grant Nicholas, Ross Pearson, Alec Sathiyamoorthy, Vikram Sondergaard, Mingqiu Wang, and Guangnan (Rio) Zhu.

Mentors: Dr Abdul Obeid and Xue Ying (Jane) Tan

Read more about the research Identifying Discriminatory Patterns in Online Advertising Data

Hacks/Hackers is a rapidly expanding international grassroots journalism organisation with thousands of members across four continents. Their mission is to create a network of journalists (“hacks”) and technologists (“hackers”) who rethink the future of news and information.