The Landscape: Due to the large amount of data digital platforms collect about their users, advertisers can target specific audiences based on characteristics such as age, race, gender, religion, income, marital status, hobbies, political views, social media habits, and propensity to vote. The more data is available, the more advertisers can craft personalized messages.
Customized digital ads can be used to raise awareness about issues that affect users and promote political participation, but they can also be used to disenfranchise voters, spread lies that capitalize on fear, or manipulate public opinion — all outside the public eye.


Moving Forward

A framework for regulating microtargeting must strike a balance between its potential harms and its pro-democracy potential. Promising proposals include: requiring large online platforms to maintain an up-to-date, public database of all online ads shown to their users; improving transparency and disclosure rules so that all targeting information is included in on-ad disclaimers; prohibiting ad targeting on the basis of sensitive categories (such as online behavioral data, geolocation data, and some demographic characteristics such as race or sexual orientation); and requiring users to opt-in to receive specific categories of digital ads.

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