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The accessibility and amount of information obtained by online companies has grown over the past decade. This growth has led to the ability of companies to target a desired population to show certain content, products and other services. The two studies conducted for this thesis examine different aspects of online targeting and users’ reactions using advertising as the primary tool. One of the main goals for the studies was to develop policy recommendations and guide policymakers into making ethical decisions. But to do this effectively some of the primary elements that we need to know is what the user understands, what they care about and why that concerns them. Keeping that in mind, we conducted three surveys that made up the first study which examined scenarios around discriminatory ads. For each scenario, we asked the user about their perception when it came to the level of problem and ethical behavior. For the second study, we conducted interviews that had participants look at the profiles that Google and Facebook have created about them based on their online activity. We were able to ask questions in regard to their comfort level, their understanding of why certain interests might be shown to them, and their general understanding of how the profiling works.

These two studies were analyzed independently of each other, but the results and possible implications of each were combined to make recommendations to businesses and policy makers. From the first study, we found 43% of participants were moderately or very concerned by the scenarios, even when discrimination took place as result of online behavioral targeting. From the second study, we found several themes emerge from the interviews including the idea that more inaccurate inferences made make them feel more uncomfortable than accurate inferences. That sentiment was expressed by 64% of the participants.