The Australian Ad Observatory Project

Did you know that targeted social media advertising could lead to discrimination and the spread of false and harmful information?

Targeted social media advertising may help better sell products and services but it also plays a significant role in reflecting and reinforcing social values and attitudes – often in ways that are harmful to women, Indigenous people, and young people.

This project is interested in how social media advertising targets all Australian social media users over 18 years of age.

Working in collaboration with the Centre for Global Indigenous Futures at Macquarie University, this project is interested in knowing more about how advertisers target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are using social media. This is important because of the use of racist stereotyping and predatory practices by advertisers.

JOIN THE PROJECT
Click the icon below that matches your internet browser.
Add to Google Chrome
Add to Mozilla Firefox
Add to Microsoft Edge

INSTALL THE BROWSER PLUGIN

The plugin is available for Chrome, for both desktop and laptop devices. Unfortunately, Safari browsers and mobile devices (including iPads and mobile phones) are not supported at this time. To install the plugin, select the extension store for your browser:

Thank you to our citizen scientist community

Since Beta testing started in August 2021

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WHY WE NEED YOUR HELP

Your participation will help us find out how social media advertising is targeting you and if targeted advertising is discriminatory. 

The outcomes of the research, will benefit our understanding of platform-based advertising and enable independent research into the role that this algorithmically targeted advertising plays in society.

We take your Data Privacy very seriously.

  • We do not access any of your personal data.
  • We do not monitor or collect any non-advertising content

This project has been reviewed and approved by the QUT Human Research Ethics Committee approval number 2021004555

Researchers conducted a recent poll to see what users thought of Facebook advertising, they found that many users were not comfortable with their personal data being used for advertising and they believed that Facebook should be more transparent about how it uses targeting advertising.

  • Over three-quarters of users agree Facebook should be transparent about how it distributes advertising on its newsfeed (77%)
  • Just 30% of users are comfortable with their personal data being used for advertising purposes

Findings based on a recent poll of 1.094 respondents. Read the full Essential Media report here

NEED EXTRA HELP?

If you need extra help – try our step by step interactive installation guide.

If you experience any difficulties during this process, please contact our project team via email at datadonation@admscentre.org.au.

ABOUT THIS PROJECT

The way ads work online is very different from how they work on TV or in print newspapers. When you see an ad on TV, everyone else watching the same channel in the same region sees the same ad. On your personal digital devices, however, the ad may be targeted to you based on detailed information about your past behavior, your interests, and your preferences. It can also be targeted to you based on a psychological profile that suggests what type of advertising appeal might work best for you: a “fear based” appeal, for example, or a humor based one.

Advertisers might also use information they have collected about your personal details to target advertising to you: whether you or someone in your family has a disability, for example, or your take-home income, or ethnicity.

The use of “dark ads” has made it possible to discriminate in online advertising and to engage in forms of stereotyping and manipulation that are invisible to consumers. If you do not know who else is seeing the job ad that you are seeing, for example, you do not know if it is being shown only to men or only to people under 40. That makes it harder to know whether forms of illegal or unethical discrimination are taking place.

We are seeking participants to install an extension on their Web browser that collects all the ads they see when they go on Facebook. The extension only collects the ads (which are identified as “sponsored” content). It does not collect any personal information other than the demographic information supplied when installing the extension. We want to find out what kinds of ads are being seen by Australian users.

ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is this study being conducted?

We want to find out what kinds of ads are being seen by Australian users and whether online advertising engages in discrimination and stereotyping.

What does participation involve?

Participation involves downloading our unique browser plugin by following the steps on the website. Once installation is complete, you don’t need to do anything else. The software will query collect the “sponsored” ads that are served to you on Facebook.

What does the plugin do?

Our browser plugin examines the web content of Facebook during regular browsing activity for specific markers that indicate elements that correspond to “promoted” advertising content. This only happens when you are browsing Facebook. When the plugin encounters a web element that it has identified as advertising content it copies the image or video of the ad and sends it back to our database. The plugin also looks for other advertising metadata such as text included within the ad, the advertiser’s name, and external web links contained in the ad itself. The plugin cannot collect or transmit anything that is not an ad, so it is not possible for it to send personally identifiable information such as status updates, or your own Facebook identity details.

How long does the plugin run for?

The plugin will continue to run its search queries until you manually disable it in your browser, or until we deactivate it at the conclusion of the project, on 31 Dec 2022.

Will you see my Facebook posts?

No, the plugin cannot collect or transmit anything that is not an ad, so it is not possible for it to send personally identifiable information such as status updates, or your own Facebook identity details.

Will you access my Friends list?

No, the plugin cannot access your friends list. We do not monitor or collect any non-advertising content

Will the plugin slow my computer down?

The software won’t interfere with the day-to-day operation, nor does it gather any personal information about you. It is restricted in what it collects and is designed to comply with ethics protocols for academic research.

How do I give consent to participate?

During the installation of the plugin you will be directed to a participant information page. Here you will asked to review the information and click the “register” button.

What about privacy and confidentiality?

During the plugin installation, we will also ask you to provide some basic demographic details (e.g. age range, gender, overall location). We use this information to investigate whether different demographic groups see different advertising – but we will not be able to use this information to identify you personally, and you can choose to provide only those details that you are comfortable with.

Who gets access to the data?

Only ADM+S researchers will have access to the data. Please see the Participant Information for further details.

What will happen to the results?

Results will be published during and after the end of the project. It will not be possible to extract any personally identifiable data from the results.

What if I have a concern or complaint regards the conduct of the research project?

ADM+S is committed to research integrity and the ethical conduct of research projects. If you wish to discuss the study with someone not directly involved, particularly in relation to matters concerning policies, information or complaints about the conduct of the study or your rights as a participant, you may contact the QUT Research Ethics Advisory Team on 07 3138 5123 or email humanethics@qut.edu.au.

Will the plugin code by publicly available?

Yes, the plugin code is available here at GitHub.

How do I uninstall the plugin?

You can follow these guides to uninstall the plugin for Chrome, Firefox or Edge

EXAMPLES OF ADVERTISING

Example of public facebook posts
Example of Facebook post

These are examples of public Facebook posts, public posts like these are not captured by the data donation plugin.

Example of Facebook post

This post contains a “Sponsored” tag which means it has been detected by the plugin and donated to the ad observatory database.

CONTACT US

If you need help installing the plugin or have a question contact us datadonation@admscentre.org.au