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CITP Seminar: Arunesh Mathur – The Princeton Digital Ad Observatory

Tuesday, April 27, 2021
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm
Photo Arunesh Mathur

Video available here.

It is well known that digital ads violate privacy, yet we know little about their content. Digital ads are of increasingly low-quality, and often contain manipulative and deceptive components to lure users into viewing potentially harmful content. Such harmful content can range from disinformation or hyper-partisan websites all the way to products with questionable claims/value like health products or payday loans. Further, many such types of ads appeal to vulnerable populations like children, older adults, and low-income individuals—all of which calls for more public scrutiny into their content. However, owing to their fleeting nature, digital ads are neither archived nor systematically studied. Previous studies of digital ads have been small in scale and limited to a single point in time.

This project proposes creating a large-scale repository of digital ads crawled and continually updated automatically from around the web. The aim is to use this repository to study the characteristics of digital ads, draw public attention towards problematic ads, and hold the publishers/platforms/networks that host these ads accountable. This talk will highlight some preliminary findings and outline an agenda to advance our understanding of the digital advertising ecosystem.


Arunesh Mathur is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy. His research examines the societal impacts of technical systems through an empirical lens. His dissertation research showed how commercial, political, and other powerful actors employ dark patterns to exploit individuals and society. His research has received two best paper awards (ACM CSCW and USENIX SOUPS) and the Privacy Papers for Policy Makers Award.

To request accommodations for a disability please contact Jean Butcher, , at least one week prior to the event.