Tracking online ads

Oct 8, 2014

We browse online, we see ads, and we buy stuff. The better-targeted the ads are, the more likely that we buy stuff. So of course advertisers continue on ways to guess who you are and what you might want to increase the chances that you click and spend. Floodwatch, a Chrome extension by the Office for Creative Research and Ashkhan Soltani, lets you turn it around ever so slightly so that you can track what the advertisers serve you.

Leave the extension on, and see banners advertisers served you, along with metadata such as size, time, and the site an ad was on. You can also compare your banner set to what other Floodwatch users see and filter by demographic.

That second view, shown above, is in line with the overarching goal of Floodwatch. Anonymously share your data to help researchers decipher the algorithms behind the advertising black box.

Extension installed and enabled.

Video below for more on the project:

See also the writeup by Jer Thorp from OCR. He showed his banner profile to ten anonymous people on Amazon Mechanical Turk and asked them to guess the type of person he was — lonely but likely living an exciting life and Jewish.

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