A security analysis of the facebook ad library

Laura Edelson, Tobias Lauinger, Damon McCoy

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


    Actors engaged in election disinformation are using online advertising platforms to spread political messages. In response to this threat, online advertising networks have started making political advertising on their platforms more transparent in order to enable third parties to detect malicious advertisers. We present a set of methodologies and perform a security analysis of Facebook's U.S. Ad Library, which is their political advertising transparency product. Unfortunately, we find that there are several weaknesses that enable a malicious advertiser to avoid accurate disclosure of their political ads. We also propose a clustering-based method to detect advertisers engaged in undeclared coordinated activity. Our clustering method identified 16 clusters of likely inauthentic communities that spent a total of over four million dollars on political advertising. This supports the idea that transparency could be a promising tool for combating disinformation. Finally, based on our findings, we make recommendations for improving the security of advertising transparency on Facebook and other platforms.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationProceedings - 2020 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, SP 2020
    PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
    Number of pages18
    ISBN (Electronic)9781728134970
    StatePublished - May 2020
    Event41st IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, SP 2020 - San Francisco, United States
    Duration: May 18 2020May 21 2020

    Publication series

    NameProceedings - IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy
    ISSN (Print)1081-6011


    Conference41st IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, SP 2020
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    CitySan Francisco

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
    • Software
    • Computer Networks and Communications


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