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Tech for Good: ADM+S Dark Ads Hackathon

28 September 2022 - 30 September 2022

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The Dark Ads Hackathon will build capacity in the area of online advertising accountability by sharing tools and fostering a network of researchers working in this area.

Targeted ads are visible only to those to whom they are directed, so how can we determine whether they are predatory, discriminatory, false or misleading?

 Join the Dark Ads Hackathon to help provide transparency in online advertising. We invite you to explore recently acquired sets of ads to reveal how they are targeted to particular demographic categories. Be part of developing innovative approaches and tools for holding social media advertisers accountable.

EOIs for this event are now closed. 


  • Wednesday 28 September
    3pm – 7pm
  • Thursday 29 September
    9am – 5:30pm
  • Friday 30 September
    9am – 4pm

The Challenge

We are asking participants to come up with ideas and approaches for providing public accountability for targeted advertising online. The hackathon will provide participants access to existing tools and data sets as one possible starting point.  Any of the following approaches fall within the scope of the challenge:

  • Designing strategies and tools for making sense of the large volumes of data collected by automated ad collection. For example, we have over 300,000 ads collected by the Australian Ad Observatory, complete with metadata about the ads and information about the demographics of people who received the ads. Such strategies might focus on any of the following:
    • Detecting false, misleading, and harmful ads;
    • Discovering bias and discrimination in ad targeting;
    • Detecting predatory advertising
  • Designing tools and approaches for capturing and archiving ads and sponsored content from social media platforms, including TikTok, to see how people are being targeted.
  • Improving on existing tools provided at the Hackathon, including tools that collect ads from Twitter, Facebook, and from Google searches.
  • Developing future strategies for ad accountability.

"The problem of false, discriminatory, and predatory advertising online is a serious one that requires innovative strategies for providing transparency and accountability.  This hackathon provides an opportunity for team participants to work with consumer rights organisations and academic experts to design new digital tools and approaches for ensuring a better and safer world online. It's time to take the tools that are being used to target and discriminate and put them to better use by turning them back on the commercial platforms that shape our information environment."

Professor Mark Andrejevic Chief Investigator, The Australian Ad Observatory project

Who Are You?

  • Participants over 18 years with various levels of experience
  • Participants who are interested in ethics by design, privacy, and public accountability for commercial institutions
  • Participants who bring relevant skills from a range of disciplines, including both humanities and the sciences
  • Participants willing to join inter-disciplinary teams that include fabricators, developers, software engineers, designers and technologists as well as legal scholars, sociologists, anthropologists, and other humanities-oriented disciplines
  • Participants who are interested in the social, cultural, and political role of advertising

Hackathon Prize

The team, selected by our judging panel, with the most innovative idea to advancing ad accountability approaches will be awarded with:

  • Return flights to Brisbane
  • One night accommodation in Southbank, Brisbane
  • Meet and greet with ABC’s Story Lab team – A collection of journalists, developers, designer, social media and video specialist focused on data-driven, visual storytelling for Australian audiences. View their work on ABC Story Lab
  • Present their winning idea at Hack/Hackers – 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.

Event Program

  • Welcome and information session for participants and media
  • Introduction of the hackathon structure, challenges, judges and mentors
  • Panel session with invited speakers on sharing recent research and industry developments
  • Participant team discussion for next two days
  • Social networking opportunity to mingle with all stakeholders and dinner
  • Breakfast session with technical mentors on the ads data tools and design
  • Participants brainstorm and ideate an approach to the issues discussed in day one panel
  • Lunch session with access to roaming mentors and invited speakers
  • Continued teamwork on designing public interest ad research concepts
  • Evening tea and day two brief on the progress and plan with all teams
  • Breakfast with all teams and technical mentors, focus on idea pitching discussion
  • Pitching idea to judges by each team
  • Lunch session with social activities
  • All teams participate in focus group discussion to share relections about their process, designs and conceptualisation
  • Announcement of winners and prizes, followed by dinner

Invited: Speakers, Mentors and Judges

Kate Bower

Kate Bower – Consumer Data Advocate, CHOICE
Speaker and Judge

Kate Bower is a Consumer Data Advocate at CHOICE, Australia’s largest consumer advocacy organisation. The Consumer Data team extends CHOICE’s fight for fair, safe and just markets to data misuse, such as price discrimination and algorithmic bias. Current priorities are automated decision-making in essential services, data monetisation and personalised pricing. Previously at CHOICE, Kate worked as a data analyst on the digital transformation of insurance and financial services comparisons. Before joining the consumer movement, Kate was an academic for more than a decade working across a range of areas including qualitative health research, higher education and gender studies. She has a PhD from the University of Technology, Sydney and a Bachelor of Arts with Honours from the University of New South Wales.

Dr Aimee Brownbill – Senior Policy and Research Advisor, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE)
Speaker and Judge

Aimee is Senior Policy and Research Advisor at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), the leading not-for-profit organisation working towards an Australia free from alcohol harm. Aimee has a PhD in Public Health and has contributed to collaborative applied research informing public health policy for several years. In her role at FARE, Aimee integrates her knowledge and experience in research, policy and advocacy to achieve translational outcomes in public health policy and practice. She is currently leading a portfolio of work on digital marketing by harmful industries such as alcohol, gambling and highly processed unhealthy foods, exploring potential avenues for regulation in this space.


Dr Laura Edelson – Postdoctoral Researcher, New York University

Laura is a Postdoctoral Researcher at New York University with the Cybersecurity for Democracy project, which she co-directs with Damon McCoy. There, she leads the Ad Observatory and Ad Observer projects, which aim to increase public transparency of digital advertising, particularly during elections. Her research focuses on studying the spread of misinformation and other forms of harmful content in both paid and organic content on Facebook. Prior to her time in academia, Laura worked as a software engineer for many years, finishing her industry career with Palantir Technologies.

Simon Elvery - Copyright ADM

Simon Elvery – Journalist and Developer at ABC News Story Lab, ABC
Speaker, Judge and Mentor

Simon is an award winning Brisbane based journalist and developer at ABC News Story Lab. He is currently Journalist Fellow at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford where he is researching the use of technology by journalists in the reporting process. His work covers a wide range of topics including data visualisation, climate change, data security and privacy and algorithmic accountability.

Samuel Kininmonth

Samuel Kininmonth – Policy Officer, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN)
Speaker, Judge and Mentor

Samuel is a communications researcher and consumer policy advocate. Sam is a policy officer at ACCAN, Australia’s peak body that represents all consumers on communications issues including telecommunications, broadband and emerging new services. Sam contributes to ACCAN’s efforts to provide a consumer voice on digital platforms and emerging services.

Sam’s doctoral thesis, titled The Programmatic Promise, focuses on automated media markets and communications infrastructures through a study of programmatic advertising and ad tech. Sam has published work in journals including Television & New Media and presented research in Australia and internationally.

Yuan-Fang Li – Associate Professor at Faculty of IT, Monash University

Yuan-Fang is an Associate Professor at Faculty of IT, Monash University. His research interest is artificial intelligence, particularly the intersection between natural language processing and knowledge representation. His recent investigations include the following tasks: (1) neuro-symbolic approaches to complex question answering, (2) knowledge graph construction from text/images, and (3) graph representation learning. For these tasks, he has developed novel techniques that are capable of learning from a few samples, continually handling streams of incoming data, adapting to new domains and unseen labels, as well as handling (severely) imbalanced data.


Lilly Ryan – Lead Security Specialist at Thoughtworks

Lilly is a digital security consultant and public speaker at Thoughtworks. She also serves on the board of Digital Rights Watch. Lilly specialises in web application security, privacy education, and the history of technology-related issues. You can catch her talking security on the OWASP DevSlop Show or occasionally having opinions on 3RRR.


Erin Turner – Chief Executive Officer, Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC)

Erin Turner is a consumer advocate that has worked with a broad range of governments and regulators to make markets fairer for Australians. Erin was appointed as Chief Executive Officer of the Consumer Policy Research Centre in March 2022. Erin most recently led the advocacy and communications team at consumer group CHOICE. Erin has a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Politics and Public Policy. She is a board member of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) and the Chair of the Financial Rights Legal Centre.

Lucy Westerman

Lucy Westerman – Commercial Determinants of Health Lead, VicHealth
Speaker and Judge

Lucy works at the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation – VicHealth, exploring the ways in which businesses’ products and practices influence health and how to mitigate their harms. She recently returned from living in the UK, where she led global campaigns and the chronic disease prevention and health promotion policy and advocacy work at global NGO, the NCD Alliance, in pursuit of stronger and better policy and action for disease prevention. Through her career to date, Lucy has sharpened her focus on alcohol, gambling, tobacco, food, and physical inactivity, and looking ‘upstream’ at cross-cutting issues such as the influence of social, political, commercial, and environmental determinants on health – and illness. Lucy holds a Master of Public Health, and bachelor’s degrees in Health Promotion, Sociology, and Nutrition, and is mother to two teenagers.

Project Researchers: Speakers, Mentors and Judges

Mark Andrejevic

Professor Mark Andrejevic – Chief Investigator, ADM+S at RMIT
MC and Mentor

Mark is Professor of Media Studies in the School of Media, Film, and Journalism at Monash University (Monash) and Chief Investigator at the ADM+S Centre’s Monash Node. His research covers the social, political, and cultural impact of digital media, with a focus on surveillance and popular culture. He is the author of four monographs, including, most recently Automated Media, as well as more than 90 academic articles and book chapters. He is a member of the Council for Big Data, Ethics, and Society and heads up the Automated Society Working Group at Monash. Before coming to Monash he held positions at the University of Queensland and the University of Iowa.

Daniel Angus

Professor Daniel Angus – Associate Investigator, ADM+S at QUT
Speaker and Mentor

Daniel is an Associate Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Node and a Professor of Digital Communication in the School of Communication at QUT. His research focuses on the development of computational analysis methods for communication data, with a specific focus on interaction data. His novel computational methods have improved our understanding of the nature of communication in medical consultations, conversations in aged care settings, television broadcast, social media, and newspaper reporting. Daniel presently leads the Computational Communication and Culture program within the QUT Digital Media Research Centre, and contributes regularly to media and industry on the impact of technology on society.

Nicholas Carah

Assoc. Professor Nicholas Carah – Associate Investigator, ADM+S at UQ
Speaker and Mentor

Nicholas is an Associate Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society’s University of Queensland node and Director of the Digital Cultures and Societies Hub in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and Associate Professor in the School of Communication and Arts at The University of Queensland.

Nicholas’ research examines the algorithmic, promotional and participatory cultures of digital media platforms. He is currently a Chief Investigator on the ARC Discovery Project ‘Using machine vision to explore Instagram’s everyday promotional cultures’, Linkage Project ‘Young Australians and the promotion of alcohol and nightlife on social media, and a Vichealth-funded project that tracks below-the-line marketing by harmful industries on social media. He is an investigator on a New Zealand Marsden Fund project examining young people, digital media and limbic capitalism. Across these research activities Nicholas’ research has offered a sustained and unique account of the foundational role advertising plays in the development of digital and social media platforms and their cultures.

Robbie Fordyce

Dr Robbie Fordyce – Postdoctoral Fellow, ADM+S at Monash University

Robbie completed his PhD, Radical Platforms, at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 2019. His thesis engaged in a critique of autonomist Marxist theories of imperialism. This included a wide engagement with the work of post-fordist and autonomist scholars, as well as platform studies, theories of globalisation and imperialism, and media theory. The thesis involved an investigation into activist and disruptive technologies; this included 3D-printing, blockchain services, wikileaks, interactive entertainment, social media, and pirate networks. Robbie’s research continues and advances these interests, expanding into research areas such as digital ethics, smart cities, infrastructure, automation, surveillance, and fabrication.

Danula Hettiachchi

Dr Danula Hettiachchi – Research Fellow, ADM+S at RMIT

Danula Hettiachchi is a Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society, and RMIT School of Computing Technologies. Danula’s research interests are human-computer interaction, crowd-sourcing, and social computing. He will contribute to the ADM+S Centre’s Machines program with a specific focus on quantifying and measuring user bias and engagement with automated decision-making systems. Danula completed his doctoral research, which investigates task assignment to improve data quality in crowd-sourcing at the School of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne.

ADM+S professional staff Abdul Obeid

Dr Abdul Obeid- Data Engineer, ADM+S at QUT
Speaker and Mentor

Dr Obeid is well-versed in machine learning, topic modelling, sentiment analysis, statistical analysis, and the use of probabilistic programming languages among other topics. He has applied these skills in industry and imparted them onto other analysts in Masters-level courses at QUT. Abdul has also taught in webdev, specifically frontend and backend development and design. He has published many software applications and has worked directly with hardware engineers in IoT communication technologies, building integrated cloud infrastructures for low-energy devices. In 2017, he was awarded his honours at QUT, for investigating influencer marketing techniques through rigorous psychometric analysis of social media. Since then, he has conceived robust scraping and storage methods, supplementing his advisory role at a Brisbane-based tech start-up. More recently, Abdul has begun research in the field of quantum cognition, a growing field that uses quantum probability calculus to understand cognitive processes. In his studies, Abdul enjoys combinatorics, graph theory, matrix algebra, and linear optimisation. He has published and co-authored many research articles, two being accepted into top-ranking journals, and is involved in ongoing collaborations with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

ADM+S Chief Investigator Mark Sanderson

Professor Mark Sanderson – Chief Investigator, ADM+S at RMIT

Mark Sanderson is a Professor of Information Retrieval at RMIT University (RMIT), Director of the ISE Enabling Capability Platform at RMIT, head of the RMIT Information Retrieval (IR) group, and Chief Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decsion-Making and Society. He has raised over $11 million dollars in grant income, published over 150 papers, and approximately 10,000 citations to his work. His research is in the areas of search engines, recommender systems, user, data, and text analytics.

Dr Damiano Spina

Dr Damiano Spina – DECRA Research Fellow, ADM+S at RMIT

Damiano is a Senior Lecturer and DECRA Fellow at the School of Computing Technologies at RMIT University. His research areas are Information Retrieval and Text Analytics. In particular, his research focuses on Interactive Information Retrieval (IIR) (including user-system interactions in voice-enabled intelligent assistants) and evaluation of information access systems (including effectiveness measures of search engines and fairness-aware evaluation). Besides his academic life, Damiano plays and teaches Capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art) and plays Samba at the Melbourne-based band Wombatuque.

Jane Tan

Xue Ying Tan (Jane) – Software Engineer in the Digital Media Research Centre at QUT
Speaker and Mentor

Jane obtained her Bachelor of Information Technology and Master of Computer Science degrees from the University of Queensland, in 2018 and 2019, respectively. In her studies, she participated in High Performance Parallel Computing research, building a compiler to translate from OpenACC to OpenMP; and completed an internship with the National University of Singapore, Digital Media Research lab, working on surface meshing algorithms with GPU using CUDA Thrust. In her role with DMRC, she focuses on the utility of computational methods including techniques such as topic modelling, machine learning, and information visualization to explore everyday promotional cultures in visual social media platforms. Her interests include Machine Learning, Full Stack Web Development and Data Analytics.

Verity Trott

Dr Verity Trott – Lecturer in Digital Media Research, ADM+S at Monash University
Speaker and Mentor

Dr Verity Trott is Lecturer in Digital Media Research at Monash University. Her published research explores digital feminist activism, popular (anti)feminism, online communities and platform politics, and digital masculinities. She is a member of the Automated Society Working Group at Monash University in which she investigates the impacts of digital technology and automation from feminist and intersectional standpoints.

Kimberlee Weatherall

Professor Kim Weatherall – DECRA Research Fellow, ADM+S at RMIT
Judge and Mentor

Kimberlee is a Professor of Law at the University of Sydney, specialising in the relationship between law and technology and intellectual property. Her current research focuses on the law relating to the collection, ownership, use and governance of data about and related to people, including privacy law, with the goal of ensuring that data collection, use and linkage, and data and predictive analytics are developed in a way that is fair, transparent, accountable, and beneficial to people and society. To that end she works with researchers across disciplines in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society, the Gradient Institute and the Humanising Machine Intelligence group at the Australian National University on questions relating to AI ethics and legality, data and data governance. She also has strong expertise in all aspects of privacy law, and conducted a Masterclass on Privacy as part of the leadup to the NSW Privacy Summit in 2020. She has an extensive background in intellectual property law and policy. She is currently a member of the Australian Computer Society’s Technical Advisory Board on Artificial Intelligence Ethics and Fellow at the Gradient Institute.

Why Dark Ads?

Targeted ads fuel the online economy and they represent a dramatic shift from mass media advertising which was publicly visible, allowing for inspection by journalists, activists, regulators, and the general public. By contrast, online ads are visible only to those to whom they are targeted, and they are not recorded in any publicly available archive. The lack of accountability makes it hard to defend against discriminatory and predatory advertising – which have a long and unfortunate history in the industry.

One way to provide transparency is to use automated tools to track and record automated advertising. We are seeking to develop innovative approaches and tools for holding ad targeting accountable. We want to explore recently acquired sets of targeted ads to reveal how they are targeted to particular demographic categories.

What types of ads are targeted to women and to men? How are people of different ages targeted? What about people with different ethnic backgrounds? How are populations that have been subjected to predatory advertising in the past, including Indigenous Australians, being targeted online?

Who Are The Organisers?

The Dark Ads hackathon is a project of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Automated Decision-Making and Society. The Centre brings together an interdisciplinary group of researchers working across realms ranging from computer engineering and law to media studies, history, and sociology. Participants in the hackathon will benefit from the expertise of Centre participants, including internationally recognised scholars across the disciplines, and from invited guests.

Dark Ads Team

Daniel Angus, Jean Burgess, Mark Andrejevic, Robbie Fordyce, Nina Li, Verity Trott, Bronwyn Carlson, Kim Weatherall, Nic Carah, Megan Richardson, Chris O’Neill, Axel Bruns, Nic Suzor.

Venue: The Oxford Scholar, Melbourne

The Oxford Scholar venue

Established in 1857, during the heady days of the Victorian gold rush, The Oxford Scholar Hotel has for more than 160 years served Melburnians at the northern-end of Swanston Street. In 2019 ‘The Scholar’ has been redeveloped, refurbished and re-imagined as a sophisticated bar and eatery, situated in the heart of the recently transformed RMIT City campus.


28 September 2022
30 September 2022


The Oxford Scholar
427 Swanston Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000 Australia
+ Google Map
(03) 9964 6977
View Venue Website