A simple self-reflection intervention boosts the detection of targeted advertising


Online platforms collect and infer detailed information about people and their behaviour, giving advertisers an unprecedented ability to reach specific groups of recipients. This ability to “microtarget” messages contrasts with people’s limited knowledge of what data platforms hold and how those data are used. Two online experiments (total N = 828) demonstrated that a short, simple intervention prompting participants to reflect on a targeted personality dimension boosted their ability to correctly identify the ads that were targeted at them by up to 26 percentage points. Merely providing a description of the targeted personality dimension did not improve accuracy; accuracy increased when participants completed a short questionnaire assessing the personality dimension—even when no personalized feedback was provided. We argue that such “boosting approaches,” which improve peoples' ability to detect advertising strategies, should be part of a policy mix aiming to increase platforms' transparency and give people the competences necessary to reclaim their autonomy online.

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