Targeting the so-called “dark ads” is a black-box decision, hidden away under the covers at Facebook or other ad-serving social media platforms. The platforms make deals with political ad buyers, who in turn are using analytics – your interests, your location, your age, your gender, and far more. One such ad buyer is Cambridge Analytica – the big-data crunching firm that gained notoriety for what its execs call psychological warfare in both the Trump and Brexit campaigns.
The Observer has been investigating the connection between Cambridge Analytica and the unofficial Leave.EU campaign. Also, The Telegraph has reported that the official Vote Leave campaign spent £3.5m on recruiting Canadian tech company AggregateIQ (AIQ), which likewise specializes in this type of highly targeted Facebook advertising.
Who Targets Me? will shine some much-needed light on this activity, said Dr Thevoz:
Traditionally, when you print a leaflet, there’s a physical copy that’s there for all to see. Online ads vanish without a trace, potentially making them a haven for the dark arts of politics. This project shines a much-needed light on the hidden side of electioneering.
Who Targets Me? co-founder Jeffers:
For the good of our democracy, it’s time to throw some light on this dark and unregulated area of campaign spending. Facebook advertising is highly targeted and tailored to the recipient, battle-tested for effectiveness, yet invisible to anyone but the end user. There are no spending limits on digital ads, despite strict legal controls in other areas of campaign expenditure. It gives big money a strong voice in our elections.
The activists are asking UK voters to install a Google Chrome extension to collect data on what ads they see in their feed. It will classify those ads according to party.
The project launched earlier this month. As of May 7, the group was well on its way to signing up participants in nearly all of the UK’s constituencies: