What is Monash’s Ad Transparency Project?

We are developing tools for holding advertisers accountable for targeted advertising and marketing online. Thanks to support from Monash University and The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), we have built a database of ads targeted to Australian consumers. The app you are using allows you to see how ads are targeted to users based on their age, sex, education and income level. We are continually adding ads to the database.

What are “dark ads”?

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 phone and on your personal 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.

Why is it important to hold advertisers accountable?

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.

Where do the ads in the database come from?

We recruited 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 they supply when they install the extension. So all the ads you see in the database come from Facebook, which is the most used social media platform in Australia.

How can I participate in the ad accountability project?

Anyone who wants to install the browser extension can participate in the project. The extension only works on the Chrome Web Browser and it can be installed on your computer by here: https://monash.skylake-staging.com/register.
Note: the extension does not work on mobile phones or tablets -- it only works on laptop and desktop computer.

Who can I contact to learn more?

You can contact the research team at: automated.society@monash.edu

Thanks for your Interest!

The Automated Society Working Group would like to acknowledge the generous support of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network through its Independent Grants Program for this project. The operation of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network is made possible by funding provided by the Commonwealth of Australia under section 593 of the Telecommunications Act 1997. This funding is recovered from charges on telecommunications carriers.