Algorithmic Transparency in Personalized Advertising: Learnings from Building "Why Am I Seeing This Ad?"

Monday, September 11, 2023 - 9:50 am10:10 am

Xuanting Cai, Rajesh Shenoy, and Anuj Gupta, Meta Platforms


In February 2023, Meta started rolling out the next iteration of the “Why am I seeing this ad?” product globally. This product was created nearly a decade ago to give people information about how ads are chosen to be shown across our applications. The update makes a step change in transparency by including information about how we use machine learning to show people ads. This work was initiated based on feedback received from users, external privacy experts and policy stakeholders on transparency changes they would like to see in our ads system.

There are several challenges we faced in building the system. First, the feature space used in ads models are extremely complex and the models makes nonintuitive connections between user activity and ads. These makes it difficult to explain the model's result in a human understandable way. Second, ad systems use complex objective function to chain machine learning models. Finally, for the product use case, we needed to provide an explanation while the user is browsing an ad in around 1-2s.

We will discuss how we addressed these challenges, the metrics we used to direct our work and learnings from our production launch.

Xuanting Cai, Meta Platforms

Xuanting Cai is a software engineer at Meta Platforms, Incorporated. Xuanting Cai earned his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Louisiana State University and B.S. in Mathematics and Economics from Peking University. Before joining Meta, he worked at and Google as a software engineer.

Rajesh Shenoy, Meta Platforms

Rajesh Shenoy is an Engineering Manager for the ML Explainability product team at Meta. Prior to this role, he has worked on building machine learning systems in search, advertising, conversational AI and computer vision.

Anuj Gupta, Meta Platforms

Anuj leads ML explainability products at Meta Platforms, Incorporated, and is focused on increased Ads transparency for users. Prior to joining Meta, Anuj was working with Amazon Web SErvices on launching multiple AI/ ML products and with Google on its advertising platform Google Ads. Anuj has extensively blogged and presented at multiple conferences about applications of ML/ AI in different domains.

@conference {290839,
author = {Xuanting Cai and Rajesh Shenoy and Anuj Gupta},
title = {Algorithmic Transparency in Personalized Advertising: Learnings from Building "Why Am I Seeing This Ad?"},
year = {2023},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = sep

Presentation Video