//Public attitudes to online targeting

Public attitudes to online targeting

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) is beginning a dialogue, with support from Sciencewise, to explore public understanding, perceptions of and attitudes towards online targeting in order to inform the advice and recommendations which the CDEI will give to government.

What is targeting?

The CDEI’s definition of online targeting centres around the customisation of products and services online (including content, services standards and prices) based on data about individual users. This can be done in a variety of ways with varying outcomes, though the most obvious instances of online targeting include online advertising and personalised social media feeds and recommendations.

Online targeting approaches are used across different sectors to help people navigate the web and provide them with relevant and engaging content on a personalised basis. However, they can also pose some risks. The way targeting works is complex and levels of public understanding and scrutiny of targeting practices are generally low. It impacts the information people see and the choices they are given at a time when our lives are moving increasingly online.

In some contexts, it might risk crossing the line between legitimate persuasion and illegitimate manipulation, particularly in the case of vulnerable people. Furthermore, the targeting of disinformation may affect people’s ability to discern the trustworthiness of news and advertising content and so to make well-informed decisions as citizens and consumers. And the collection and analysis of data that enable online targeting might risk undermining data protection and privacy rights.

These tensions and their implications are why the CDEI was commissioned by the Chancellor in the 2018 Budget to look into online targeting and make recommendations to government and others on how it should be governed and implemented. A very important part of this will be understanding public views on this through a Sciencewise supported dialogue.

Why a public dialogue now?

How data and AI is being used to target products and services is garnering a lot of public attention, but the issues and trade offs are complex and there is limited understanding of public attitudes towards them. There is a clear need for genuine public dialogue – especially with much public engagement historically being focused on understanding public perceptions and awareness rather than on the impacts on people and their communities and their views on potential changes to governance systems that might address any concerns.

How will the outputs be used?

The CDEI will publish its final report into online targeting in December 2019. This report will include specific and practical recommendations to government and others, focusing on the governance and implementation of online targeting practices. It is therefore important to run this dialogue now to ensure that public attitudes, perceptions and expectations are understood and can inform what recommendations are made to government.

How will the dialogue be structured?

Running until October 2019, this dialogue will bring groups of the public to workshops across the country in order to reflect the broad range of opinions and perspectives held by members of the public. The workshops will explore particular case studies to develop a detailed understanding of what the perceived benefits and issues might be with targeting, and where different people sit on the key trade offs.

The dialogue will bring together a group of 90 people who are representative of the wider population, who will work in smaller groups, for 2 day-long workshops in 3 locations. It will also bring together 4 special interest groups to express viewpoints of young people, those who are financially vulnerable, BME people and people who have struggled with mental health issues in order to understand their particular viewpoints on targeting. In total this will mean 150 different participants will be involved in this dialogue.

Find out more

Updates on the project will be posted on the CDEI website – https://www.gov.uk/cdei

For further information on the dialogue, please contact: [email protected] mentioning the dialogue in the subject of your email.