ADM+S Hackathon generates new ideas for investigating “dark advertising”

Author Kathy Nickels
Date 31 October 2022

The winning idea from the Tech for Good: ADM+S Dark Ads Hackathon proposes new methods to identify online advertising practices that could involve price discrimination.

Professor Daniel Angus, Associate Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S Centre) said the winning idea presents a particularly powerful technique for uncovering forms of misleading and discriminatory advertising.

“This technique will mean that identifying some forms of dark advertising practices will no longer be like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Professor Angus.

The Tech for Good: ADM+S Dark Ads Hackathon 2.5 day event brought together over 40 participants from social science, humanities, and computer science to hack new ideas and methods for better transparency in online advertising.

“The diversity of ideas and potential for impact was extraordinary. While large technology firms continue to drag the chain on advertising accountability, it was refreshing to see our participants offer new ideas and approaches to these significant issues.” said Professor Angus.

The Hackathon was hosted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S) in collaboration with government and consumer rights organisations, who recognised an urgent need for better transparency and accountability  following recent examples of price discriminiation, scam advertising and predatory targeting in online advertising spaces.

The winning pitch, Using postcodes to identify discriminatory patterns in online advertising data,  used the existing ADM+S Australian Ad Observatory database of half a million advertisements donated by close to 2,000 participants alongside statistical data associated with postcodes to identify patterns of price discrimination based on userlocation. 

The team also suggested building a visual interface to help both researchers and consumers quickly identify discrimination and other unethical  advertising practices.

Other ideas presented at the hackathon included: 

Read more about the Hackathon and the team’s ideas on the Tech for Good: ADM+S Dark Ads Hackathon webpage.

Watch highlights from the event on YouTube

The winning team will be traveling to Brisbane in November to present their idea to the ABC’s Story Lab team a collection of journalists, developers, designers, social media and video specialists focused on data-driven, visual storytelling for Australian audiences and to Hack/Hackers a rapidly expanding international grassroots journalism organisation. 

Find out how social media advertising is targeting you and help researchers uncover harmful advertising practices, join the Australian Ad Observatory

The Tech for Good: ADM+S Dark Ads Hackathon included two public panels where researchers from the Australian Ad Observatory joined with consumer advocates and government representatives to discuss online harms and the future of advertising accountability.

Watch the Public Panel discussions on YouTube 

Panel 1: Key Issues in Online Advertising  

Panel 2: Accountability for Online Ads 

Listen to the Public Panel discussions on the ADM+S Podcast 

We thank the following judging panel for their time and feedback provided to the Hackathon teams:

  • Kate Bower – Consumer Data Advocate, CHOICE
  • Dr Aimee Brownbill – Senior Policy and Research Advisor, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE)
  • Simon Elvery – Journalist and Developer at ABC News Story Lab, ABC
  • Samuel Kininmonth – Policy Officer, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN)
  • Yuan-Fang Li – Associate Professor at Faculty of IT, Monash University
  • Lucy Westerman – Commercial Determinants of Health Lead, VicHealth
  • Professor Kim Weatherall – Chief Investigator, ADM+S at The University of Sydney

The Hackathon was organised by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S) in collaboration with ABC, VicHealth, Digital Rights Watch, ACCAN (The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network), CHOICE, CPRC (Consumer Policy Research Centre), and FARE (Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education).