Facebook bans researchers who have researched ad transparency and misinformation on Facebook

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Facebook has banned the personal accounts of researchers who researched the transparency of ads and the dissemination of false information on the social network. Facebook says the group violated its Terms of Service by scratching user information without permission. But researchers say they will be silenced about exposing problems on the Facebook platform.

The researchers were part of it NYU Ad Observatory, a project to study the origins and spread of political ads on Facebook. As the group explained in a blog post In May, they aim to find out who pays for political ads and how they are targeted. Such work has significant implications for understanding Facebook’s spread of misinformation because the company does not review political ads.

To make the job easier, the researchers created a browser extension called Ad Tracker, which automatically collects information about what political ads are shown to users and why they are targeted. According to website, the extension does not collect personal information, including user name, Facebook ID, or friends list.

The data collected by Ad Observer is then made publicly available to researchers and journalists who use the data to uncover trends and issues on the Facebook platform. The stories created directly from this work include Facebook it is not revealed who pays for some political ads, and how far-right misleading information is more interesting than misinformation from center- or left-wing sources.

Facebook offers some this information on a voluntary basis Advertising library, but not all. For example, it doesn’t share information about targeting ads based on users’ interests. People can find this themselves by clicking on the ads displayed, and NYU collected this information. (Facebook provides information on ad targeting a a special research program called FORT, but this is controlled and filtered by Facebook itself.)

Laura Edelson, a NYU researcher who is involved in the project and whose personal account has been banned from Facebook, says the company wants to end independent monitoring of its platform.

“Facebook is silencing us because our work often draws attention to the problems of its platform,” Edelson said Bloomberg News in an email. “The worst part is that Facebook uses user privacy, a core belief that we have always put at the forefront of our work as an excuse for this. If this episode shows anything, Facebook shouldn’t have a veto over who gets to investigate them. “

Facebook says it has denied the researchers because they have violated the social network terms of use and that the Ad Observer plug-in “collected information about Facebook users who did not install or approve the collection.” The wording of Facebook suggests that researchers collected data from individuals without permission, however as reported Minutes in March, Facebook refers in fact to “advertisers’ accounts, including the names and profile pictures of public pages displaying political advertisements and the content of those advertisements”. (Limit asked Facebook to confirm this, but the company declined to comment.)

Facebook certainly has good reason to be wary of third parties collecting information from their site. Cambridge Analytican scandal was only possible because the company did not properly control how the data could be captured from its platform. It led to a A $ 5 billion fine for the company and new FTC privacy reviews.

Facebook now says NYC investigators must be banned under these FTC guidelines and their pages and access must be disabled. However, some data protection experts disagree. Jonathan Mayer, a professor of technology and law at Princeton University, said on Twitter that “Facebook’s legal argument is false.”

Facebook says it repeatedly offered to collaborate with NYU researchers by providing the information it needed directly, and first warned the group may have been banned from the site last year.

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