Claire Dolin, Ben Weinshel, Shawn Shan, Chang Min Hahn, Euirim Choi, Michelle L. Mazurek, Blase Ur
Much of what a user sees browsing the internet, from ads to search results, is targeted or personalized by algorithms that have made inferences about that user. Prior work has documented that users find such targeting simultaneously useful and creepy. We begin unpacking these conflicted feelings through two online studies. In the first study, 306 participants saw one of ten explanations for why they received an ad, reflecting prevalent methods of targeting based on demographics, interests, and other factors. The type of interest-based targeting described in the explanation affected participants’ comfort with the targeting and perceptions of its usefulness. We conducted a follow-up study in which 237 participants saw ten interests companies might infer. Both the sensitivity of the interest category and participants’ actual interest in that topic significantly impacted their attitudes toward inferencing. Our results inform the design of transparency tools.