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Toward Controlling Discrimination in Online Ad Auctions
L. Elisa Celis · Anay Mehrotra · Nisheeth Vishnoi

Thu Jun 13 09:35 AM -- 09:40 AM (PDT) @ Seaside Ballroom

Online advertising platforms are thriving due to the customizable audiences they offer advertisers. However, recent studies show that the audience an ad gets shown to can be discriminatory with respect to sensitive attributes such as gender or ethnicity, inadvertently crossing ethical and/or legal boundaries. To prevent this, we propose a constrained optimization framework that allows the platform to control of the fraction of each sensitive type an advertiser's ad gets shown to while maximizing its ad revenues. Building upon Myerson's classic work, we first present an optimal auction mechanism for a large class of fairness constraints. Finding the parameters of this optimal auction, however, turns out to be a non-convex problem. We show how this non-convex problem can be reformulated as a more structured non-convex problem with no saddle points or local-maxima; allowing us to develop a gradient-descent-based algorithm to solve it. Our empirical results on the A1 Yahoo! dataset demonstrate that our algorithm can obtain uniform coverage across different user attributes for each advertiser at a minor loss to the revenue of the platform, and a small change in the total number of advertisements each advertiser shows on the platform.

Author Information

L. Elisa Celis (Yale University)
Anay Mehrotra (Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur)
Nisheeth Vishnoi (Yale University)

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