Betrayed by your ads! Reconstructing user profiles from targeted ads

Claude Castelluccia*, Mohamed Ali Kaafar, Minh Dung Tran

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


In targeted (or behavioral) advertising, users' behaviors are tracked over time in order to customize served ads to their interests. This creates serious privacy concerns since for the purpose of profiling, private information is collected and centralized by a limited number of companies. Despite claims that this information is secure, there is a potential for this information to be leaked through the customized services these companies are offering. In this paper, we show that targeted ads expose users' private data not only to ad providers but also to any entity that has access to users' ads. We propose a methodology to filter targeted ads and infer users' interests from them. We show that an adversary that has access to only a small number of websites containing Google ads can infer users' interests with an accuracy of more than 79% (Precision) and reconstruct as much as 58% of a Google Ads profile in general (Recall). This paper is, to our knowledge, the first work that identifies and quantifies information leakage through ads served in targeted advertising.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPrivacy Enhancing Technologies
Subtitle of host publication12th International Symposium, PETS 2012 : proceedings
EditorsSimone Fischer-Hubner, Matthew Wright
Place of PublicationBerlin
PublisherSpringer, Springer Nature
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9783642316807
ISBN (Print)9783642316791
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes
Event12th International Symposium on Privacy Enhancing Technologies, PETS 2012 - Vigo, Spain
Duration: 11 Jul 201213 Jul 2012

Publication series

NameLecture Notes in Computer Science
ISSN (Print)0302-9743
ISSN (Electronic)1611-3349


Conference12th International Symposium on Privacy Enhancing Technologies, PETS 2012


  • information leakage
  • privacy
  • Targeted Advertising


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