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What do your sponsored ads say about you?

What do your sponsored ads say about you?

Published on May 10, 2019 by Yue Lucy Han, Selwyn Black and Yue Lucy Han

Have you ever had the experience where you see something pop-up on your social media feed and you wonder ‘what on earth’?

The writer recently had this experience when Facebook asked if the writer wanted to explore volunteering opportunities in the writer’s area because the writer had shown in interest in helping people. While the writer was flattered by their conclusion, the writer was more alarmed.

Screenshot of the Facebook notification

The writer was alarmed at the lack of transparency around data Facebook used to come to the conclusion that the writer have shown an interest in helping others.

The writer was alarmed at Facebook’s decision to implement a call to action, finding local volunteer opportunities, based on that conclusion.

The writer was alarmed that if Facebook can identify positive traits, then it is equally likely that they can identify negative traits and implement different calls to action.

So what do your sponsored ads or targeted content say about you?

Frankly speaking, we do not know for sure.

For example, if you see an ad on Facebook feed warning you against drink driving, is this ad targeted in a way that is based on general statistical demographic assumptions or has an algorithm decided that you are more susceptible for an offence?

This is a recognised area of unknown. The rapid development of artificial intelligence and machine learning has created gaps in understanding and reduced levels of transparency to the end users. This leads us to an emerging but a contentious area of Artificial Intelligence assisted predictive law enforcement, which is a topic for another day.

Given the unknowns and the uncertainties, the writer would encourage you all to review your privacy setting and think about the different ways of safeguarding your data and your identity.

Privacy Awareness Week 2019

Now is the perfect time to act with the Privacy Awareness Week (PAW) from 12 to 18 May 2018. This is an annual initiative run by the Office of the Information Commissioner (OAIC) and the Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities forum.[1] This year’s theme is ‘Don’t be in the dark on privacy’.[2] Take this opportunity to check your privacy health.

                                                           OAIC Privacy Awareness Week[3]

If you are a business owner, you should also check the privacy health of your business. In an age where Facebook is saying that the ‘Future is Private’[4], a company built on extracting value from user data, it raises the question about whether it is time to view  privacy as a matter of strategic importance rather than simple legal compliance.

Generally speaking, if the annual turnover of your business is under $3 million,[5] you are most likely not required to comply with the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). However, the beauty of the Australian privacy regulation framework is that it is principles based. It is designed in a way to enshrine principles that help to foster and grow privacy minded individuals and businesses.

In light of PAW, it may be beneficial for you and your business to review the 13 Australian Privacy Principles and apply them strategically to your business.

Australian Privacy Principles (APPs)[6]


Open and transparent management of personal information


Anonymity and pseudonymity


Collection of solicited personal information


Dealing with unsolicited personal information


Notification of the collection of personal information


Use or disclosure of personal information


Direct marketing


Cross-border disclosure of personal information


Adoption, use or disclosure of government related identifiers

APP 10

Quality of personal information

APP 11

Security of personal information

APP 12

Access to personal information

APP 13

Correction of personal information






[5] Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) s6, s6C and s6D

[6] Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) Schedule 1

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