IBM Creates AI to Reduce Ad Targeting Discrimination

A group of IBM researchers are working on AI to reduce discrimination in online advertising campaigns.

“The foundations of advertising are crumbling and we have to rebuild the house. While we’re at it, let’s make sure that fairness is on the agenda, ”said Bob Lord, IBM vice president. On June 24, 2021, IBM told media that a 14-person team will be working on online ad bias for the next 6 months. Big Blue hopes to develop a tool to identify and reduce certain discriminatory biases in advertising targeting. “Bias is unfortunately pervasive in almost every sector of the advertising industry,” says Ad Council CEO Lisa Sherman.

Based on artificial intelligence (AI), IBM’s tool aims to ensure that certain groups are not focused when serving online advertisements in order to avoid unwarranted distinctions. One of the objectives of this AI is to identify advertising campaigns targeted in a discriminatory way, for example on men living in big cities, then to redirect it towards other users.

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To do this, the researchers will look at different ways to reduce prejudice during an advertising campaign. They are particularly interested in targeting categories and messages disseminated. A previous study by “Big Blue” found that showing an ad to all target groups does not decrease the percentage of clicks on the ad. IBM aims to include this functionality in its Watson business offering, which is marketing one of its specialties. When subscribing to the advertising offering, the customer could choose to add the anti-bias functionality.

The discrimination of ad targeting had already been questioned by the United States Department of Housing

For the past ten years, academics and groups defending individual freedoms have warned of discrimination in online advertising targeting. While it may seem trivial not to be targeted by advertising in the luxury sector, it is much less for job offers or real estate offers.

In 2018, the United States Department of Housing accused Facebook of violating the law because of the exclusion of certain profiles from real estate ads. The targeting of these was based on criteria such as gender or religion. In addition, anti-discrimination activists had also attacked Facebook and Google on the same subject. The response of the two giants had been in the image of the new tool of IBM: to remove certain categories of advertising targeting.

Beyond discrimination, the online advertising industry also faces growing concerns about data confidentiality. However, all this does not hamper good prospects for the advertising market.