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CDEI concludes public engagement on online targeting

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has concluded a major events programme supporting one of its upcoming reviews

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) has concluded a major programme of public events in support of its review into the ethics of online targeting.

The public engagement workshops were carried out in June and July 2019 in Bradford, Cardiff, Falkirk, London, Newcastle, Southampton, and Tamworth. CDEI worked with Ipsos Mori to speak to 150 participants over two days.

According to the CDEI, there are relatively low levels of public awareness and understanding around online targeting. The idea of the workshops was to develop insights about how the public perceives the practices once they build an understanding about them.

Themes explored in the workshops, developed in partnership with public engagement programme Sciencewise, ranged from autonomy and vulnerability to social cohesion in the context of online targeting. Experts from the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Alan Turing Institute, Facebook and Ofcom also helped develop materials.

Three groups considered to be broadly representative of the UK were assembled, with smaller workshops with specific groups of interest – such as financially vulnerable people, and black and minority ethnic communities – also taking place.

To help participants understand issues associated to online targeting, approaches used included using online browsing data and search history to create different online profiles, to demonstrate how they would be targeted with different content.

In addition, mock-ups of social media platforms were also shared to test participants’ responses to different tools to mitigate harm. Participants were also recruited to record video diaries to show how online targeting affects them.

The CDEI is now analysing the results of the workshops and will publish a report with the full findings in the autumn.

An interim report into online targeting was published by the centre in July, looking at public attitudes towards the practices, as well as regulation and governance, and possible solutions.

According to the report, people’s attitudes about online targeting change as they develop better understanding of it.

“In some areas, stronger regulations may be needed. In other areas, greater transparency and visibility of how targeting operates may be more useful,” the report said.

“Giving individuals stronger controls or rights over how data about them is used may provide both protection from harm as well as opportunities for innovation.”

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