Targeted Advertising: Invisible Enabler of Unequal Treatment

No Thumbnail Available
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
School of Business | Bachelor's thesis
Electronic archive copy is available locally at the Harald Herlin Learning Centre. The staff of Aalto University has access to the electronic bachelor's theses by logging into Aaltodoc with their personal Aalto user ID. Read more about the availability of the bachelor's theses.
Degree programme
Tieto- ja palvelujohtaminen
30 + 7
Online advertising has evolved into a massive industry, the success of which is at least partially due to the wide supply of precise targeting options. Targeting brings value for both advertisers and consumers as more relevant ads are served. However, there is a downside to this: particular groups can be targeted more, or, on the other hand, excluded from seeing ads in an unfair matter. Concern for potential discrimination is increasing as advertising has expanded to include not only products and services but also consequential life opportunities and socially important issues (e.g., housing, employment, political influencing). This study explores the discrimination challenges concerning online targeted advertising. The choices made at the targeting phase or during the ad creation and delivery process have been shown to function in a way that biases may occur, and the targeted audience become skewed. It is possible that some consumers are less likely to see particular ads based on, for instance, their demographic characteristics, even though the intention was to advertise to a broad and inclusive audience. Discrimination seems to persist, even though it is prohibited under many European laws. Due to the complexity of the online advertising system and the advertising process, the evolution of new techniques and the lack of transparency in the industry, the current legislation seems to lag behind and fail to tackle the discrimination. The existing legislation at the EU level concerning the topic is difficult to put into enforcement, and regulations mainly focus on individual targeting attributes rather than the overall result, leaving a possibility for algorithmic discrimination. Therefore, also potential solutions and improvements are discussed. The main findings suggest that transparency must be enhanced so that external entities like researchers and decision-makers can better study and tackle the unequal treatment. Regulatory authorities should also be strengthened and regulations regarding discrimination in online advertising be updated and developed. Finally, other actors like ad platforms should be encouraged to tackle the discrimination problem as well for example through incentives or through legislation.
Thesis advisor
Bragge, Johanna
discrimination, online targeted advertising, discriminatory ad targeting, algorithmic bias
Other note