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MIMS Final Project 2019

Sniper Ad Targeting

Is it possible to target a cuztomised ad to a specific individual in order to manipulate or brainwash them?

A company now offers a sniper targeting service for $30, with packages to convince parents to buy a dog or have partner initiate sex.

Fascinating? Scary? Preposterous?

This project aims at investigating the different techniques available to do sniper targeting as well as the risks for the target, the social impact and the legal frames of this practice.

Paper Abstract

The digital ad infrastructure is getting increasingly powerful and precise at targeting users with more ’relevant’ content. Ads are customized with granular behavioral and demographic data. Cookies enable advertisers to re-targeted users across devices and sessions, and audiences defined by personally identifiable information bridges the gap between online and offline marketing. These developments are beneficial to the internet industry, but also enabled the emergence of a dangerous practice called Sniper-Targeting.

Sniper-targeted campaigns exploit micro-targeting criteria in order to reach a pre-defined audience with tailored content. As information warfare intensifies on the internet, this practice can be a powerful method to manipulate, extort private information, and back cyber-attacks. This paper reviews how sniper-targeting has been used in the past and how it evolves in the current landscape. We investigate different sniper-targeting strategies, including using Facebook’s Custom Audience feature and a new tool that claims to make sniper-targeting available to the masses. Despite limitations, we show that sniper-targeting is relatively easily achievable and that preventive measures will be required to limit the spread of this phenomenon.

Last updated:

May 13, 2019