This page provides further information about the Australian Ad Observatory project.
To join the project visit the main Australian Ad Observatory project page.

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


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.

Your participation will contribute to the creation of a public dataset of targeted advertising materials that will be managed by our research team. The dataset will be used by our team to inform our research, and in the spirit of our data donation philosophy also shared as a public dataset for the purpose of enabling additional research into online targeted advertising.

As a public dataset the data may be accessed and used by third-parties for any number of purposes, however as no personal identifying information will be collected throughout the data donation process (only general non-identifiable demographic information) the risks of misuse or harm arising from such misuse are negligible.


There is a lot of speculation about how Facebook decides what ads you see. While they have provided some transparency via the Facebook Ad Library, this offers significantly limited information, is not independently verified, and removes inactive ads from its public database.

The lack of information on algorithmically targeted advertising practices means that we have few ways of knowing if there are breaches of advertising codes of practice, or other potentially problematic activities occurring. We want to achieve a much greater level of transparency and accountability through a crowdsourcing approach, and we invite you to participate in this project if you are currently residing in Australia, are aged 18 or older, and a user of Facebook.

The more Australian users that support us, the greater the transparency. So please help us by installing our browser plug-in, which automatically identifies sponsored content in your Facebook feed and sends it to our Australian ad database. Your data donation will enable us to determine what advertising is present on the Facebook platform, and how demographic details influence the kinds of advertising displayed. The plugin will not access or transmit any personally identifiable information, nor will it read any non-advertising content.

The Australian Search Experience project is funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S), and coordinated by researchers from Queensland University of Technology and Monash University.


Browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, and Opera can be expanded by installing plugins (also called extensions), which can add new functions to the browser.

Webpages are constructed using programming languages’ like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. There are agreed patterns and standards that websites use to ensure that websites render correctly in our browsers, enabling us to consume multimedia content, load and share our own materials, and many more functions. 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.

In short: we do not monitor or collect any non-advertising content.


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.

We will publish updates on the outcomes of this research project from time to time on this page – please check back if you are interested to see them. You can also access your own personal digest of advertising that you have encountered on Facebook via the plugin, this also acts as a transparent record of the materials that you have donated to the project.

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. In keeping with the ‘data donation’ philosophy, the full dataset will be shared at the end of the project via a public data repository. However, it will not be possible for anybody to identify you personally from this public dataset.

Please click here to see more detailed participant information for this research.  

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
Essential Media report cover

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


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.


If you need help installing the plugin or have a question contact us