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Facebook's advertising WAIST tags

In 2014 Meta Facebook introduced the ‘Why Am I Seeing This Ad?’ (WAIST) feature. This feature enables individual users to click on a button that provides information about why a particular ad was targeted at them.

WAIST data is specific to Meta, and comprises information like interests associated with users’ profiles, locations visited, businesses interacted with, and advertisements clicked. This research investigates the ‘interest’ category of WAIST data. ‘Interests’ are automatically generated by Meta’s advertising model as users interact with their services.

They are a constantly expanding list of terms attached to user profiles that link them to other users, to advertisers, and to specific cultural categories. Interests might include anything from ‘John Lennon’, to ‘Melbourne’, to ‘McDonald’s, to ‘love’, to ‘craft beer’, to ‘running’. 

At face value, if the WAIST data for an ad for suitcases says ‘travel’, ‘London’ and ‘working professional’ we might assume that we were served an advertisement because an advertiser deliberately targeted working professionals with an ‘interest’ in travelling and London. This ‘post-demographic’  interest-based targeting is of potential concern in the ways it can serve as a proxy for identity-based categories made up of sensitive or protected characteristics, while appearing to simply respond to users’ needs and desires.


Daniel Angus

Prof Daniel Angus
Chief Investigator

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ADM+S Associate Director Jean Burgess

Prof Jean Burgess
Chief Investigator

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Nicholas Carah

Assoc Prof Nicholas Carah
Associate Investigator

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ADM+S professional staff Abdul Obeid

Dr Abdul Obeid
Data Engineer

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