Privacy Challenges in Online Targeted Advertising

Minh-Dung Tran 1
1 NECS - Networked Controlled Systems
Inria Grenoble - Rhône-Alpes, GIPSA-DA - Département Automatique
Abstract : In modern online advertising, advertisers tend to track Internet users' activities and use these tracking data to personalize ads. Even though this practice - known as extit{targeted advertising} - brings economic benefits to advertising companies, it raises serious concerns about potential abuses of users' sensitive data. While such privacy violations, if performed by trackers, are subject to be regulated by laws and audited by privacy watchdogs, the consequences of data leakage from these trackers to other entities are much more difficult to detect and control. Protecting user privacy is not easy since preventing tracking undermines the benefits of targeted advertising and consequently impedes the growth of free content and services on the Internet, which are mainly fostered by advertising revenue. While short-term measures, such as detecting and fixing privacy leakages in current systems, are necessary, there needs to be a long-term approach, such as privacy-by-design ad model, to protect user privacy by prevention rather than cure. In the first part of this thesis, we study several vulnerabilities in current advertising systems that leak user data from advertising companies to external entities. First, since targeted ads are personalized to each user, we present an attack exploiting these ads on the fly to infer user private information that have been used to select ads. Second, we investigate common ad exchange protocols, which allow companies to cooperate in serving ads to users, and show that advertising companies are leaking user private information, such as web browsing history, to multiple parties participating in the protocols. These web browsing histories are given to these entities at surprisingly low prices, reflecting the fact that user privacy is extremely underestimated by the advertising industry.In the second part of the thesis, we propose a privacy-by-design targeted advertising model which allows personalizing ads to users without the necessity of tracking. This model is specifically aimed for the two newly emerging ad technologies - retargeting advertising and ad exchange. We show that this model provides strong protection for user privacy while still ensuring ad targeting performance and being practically deployable.
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Minh-Dung Tran. Privacy Challenges in Online Targeted Advertising. Computers and Society [cs.CY]. Université de Grenoble, 2014. English. ⟨NNT : 2014GRENM053⟩. ⟨tel-01555362⟩

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