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Advertising Platform can go “wild”

http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~korolova/papers/Facebooks_Ad_Platform_New_Attacks.pdf

Irfan Faizullabhoy, Aleksandra Korolova

Recently, our lectures have been talking a lot about web searches, advertisers, page rankings, and advertising pricing strategies. The real power that enables marketing businesses to reach more specific and related group of audiences is those Ad targeting platform such as Twitter, Facebook, Google or Pinterest. These companies have developed their own APIs and released them as new toolkit for advertisers. Unsurprisingly, these tools have been a boon for marketing companies. As we have discussed during lecture, by targeting specific individual or individuals, advertisement slots have bigger chance to be clicked.

However, instead of looking into how powerful one Ads platform could be, this paper focuses on downsides brought along with these new features as threats to customer privacy and even the welfare of society. Using Facebook’s algorithm as an example, researchers showed how some measurements that Facebook took could be invalid of preventing advertisers from individual-level targeting such as single-person targeting or single-house targeting. For example, this paper shows that even though Facebook’s location targeting feature enforces a minibus 1-mile radius, by applying several arbitrary combinations of 1-mile radius circles, one certain house could be easily targeted. The figure below gives a general idea of how it could be achieved.

Even though searching on Google, playing around with Facebook or Instagram, and retweeting are totally free, these companies are still making good money by simply collecting, analyzing and “reselling” consumers’ data to advertisers.

More importantly, at the end of this paper, researches advocated for a few changes that online Ad platform could employ to protect users’ privacy and social well-being. For instance, researchers pointed out that customers should have the option of opting out of certain criteria, of certain targeted advertisements, etc effortlessly. I find this point making a lot of sense. In fact, YouTube, which is part of Google, is implementing this action. When I am watching videos on YouTube right now, there are pop-up ads at the bottom of the video but I am always given the option to close it, which is really nice.

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