CDEI concludes a programme of public engagement workshops on the ethics of online targeting

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Across June and July 2019, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation carried out a major programme of public engagement in support of our review into the ethics of online targeting.

We worked with Ipsos MORI to speak to 150 participants over two days, with events taking place across the UK (Bradford, Cardiff, Falkirk, London, Newcastle, Southampton, and Tamworth).

Understanding public attitudes

Online targeting has become prevalent in modern life, but there are relatively low levels of public awareness and understanding of the practice and how it could affect individuals. Through a process of engagement with a diverse and inclusive group of participants, we are developing insights about how the public perceive online targeting once they build an understanding of the practice.

Representative selection

We convened three groups to be broadly demographically representative of the UK, and four smaller workshops with specific groups of interest, including people with mental health issues, young people (16-17), financially vulnerable people and people from BME backgrounds.


Our approach has been developed in partnership with Sciencewise, the UK’s internationally-recognised public engagement programme. We brought together a range of experts – including from the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Alan Turing Institue, Facebook and OfCom – to help develop materials and inform participants.

Explaining complex ideas

We used a variety of approaches to help participants understand the issues posed by online targeting. This included:

  • Using online browsing data and search history to create two different online profiles, to demonstrate how they would be targeted with different content
  • Sharing mock-ups of social media platforms to test participants’ responses to different tools to mitigate harm
  • Recruiting dozens of participants to record video diaries showing how targeting affects them
people discuss issues on a whiteboard

Next steps

We are now analysing the results of the workshops and will publish a report with the full findings in the autumn.

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