Seminar: Amit Datta-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Seminar: Amit Datta-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Amit Datta

Amit Datta headshotCMU Silicon Valley welcomes Amit Datta, Carnegie Mellon University Ph.D. Candidate

  • March 8, 2016
  • 1:30 - 2:30 p.m.  (PT)
  • 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. (ET)
  • Silicon Valley campus, Bldg 23 Room 118

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Information Flow Experiments on Personalized Ads and Ad Settings: A Tale of Opacity, Choice, and Discrimination

Abstract: To partly address people’s concerns over web tracking, Google has created the Ad Settings webpage to provide information about and some choice over the behavioral profiles Google creates on users. We present AdFisher, an automated tool that explores how user behaviors, Google’s ads, and Ad Settings interact. AdFisher can run browser-based experiments and analyze data using machine learning and significance tests. Our tool uses a rigorous experimental design and statistical analysis to ensure the statistical soundness of our results. We use AdFisher to study transparency, discrimination, and choice on the Google Ad Ecosystem. In particular, we found that visiting webpages associated with substance abuse changed the ads shown but not the settings page. We also found that setting the gender to female resulted in getting fewer instances of an ad related to high paying jobs than setting it to male. We cannot determine who caused these findings due to our limited visibility into the ad ecosystem, which includes Google, advertisers, websites, and users. Nevertheless, these results can form the starting point for deeper investigations by either the companies themselves or by regulatory bodies.

This is joint work with Michael Tschantz and Anupam Datta.
This work was presented at PETS 2015 (
Official version:

About the Speaker: Amit is a Ph.D. candidate at Carnegie Mellon University advised by Prof. Anupam Datta. Broadly, his research interests span privacy, security, and cryptography. Amit received his Bachelor of Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur in 2012.