Towards transparency and privacy in the online advertising business

Databroker System: A New Online Advertising System That Keeps Users Engaged While Preserving Their Privacy

Rica Gonen


In 2013 Online advertising generated $42B worth of revenue and more than 3.4 million direct and indirect jobs in Europe alone. The online advertising industry supports some of the most important Internet services such as search, social media and user generated content sites. However, the lack of transparency regarding tracking techniques and the type of information companies collect about users is creating increasing concerns in society. Software tools for implementing total mitigation (e.g., ad blockers and anonymizing services) are able to limit or block the transfer of information from end users to the online advertising ecosystem. Broad adoption of these tools by end users may cause disruptions in the digital economy by affecting the online advertising sector and leading to consequences such as layoffs. Based on this motivation we introduce a new foreseeable future advertising model. Our suggested databroker system takes an alternative approach to preserving users’ privacy based on game theoretic principles. The game theoretic approach to preserving users’ privacy allows for the maintaining of desirable economic properties in the advertising market. The databorker system serves as a privacy-incentive based interface between end-users and online advertising platforms. Specifically, end-users will provide the Data Broker with the only information they wish to share with the market. The data broker will then engage in the advertising market, selling access to end-users and end-users’ information, while guaranteeing end-users’ anonymity. To encourage end-users to share as much information with the advertising market, the data broker will pay awards to contributing end-users as a function of the price paid to the broker by the advertising market.

Research highlights:
  • We present a demo of the data broker system. The Databroker system guarantees privacy by default since only those pieces of data that the user is willing to share will be passed to the Data Broker and thus forwarded to the online advertising market.
  • Current strategies to profile end-users are based on tracking techniques. However, no single tracker is present in all websites and thus they all potentially miss some of the user’s online activity. The Databroker takes a different approach and receives information directly from end-users and is thus more accurate. In addition, algorithms that infer user’s interests from their browsing behavior are typically based on heuristics that in many cases lead to an inaccurate prediction of the end-user’s actual interests. The demoed Databroker system addresses the mentioned issues and provides accurate information regarding the interests of end users (i.e., the information is directly provided by the end user).
  • The Databroker encourages end users to willingly share more of their data by providing price- incentive awards after engaging in auctioning their profile anonymously.

Read the entire paper here.

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