With Facebook denied personal accounts of academics investigating the transparency of ads and misinformation in this forum this week, it partially justified the decision by saying it only followed the rules set by the Federal Trade Commission. But the FTC itself says this is “inaccurate” and that its rules do not require such action, reports Washington Post.
Facebook claims it banned the accounts from “stopping unauthorized hijacking and protecting people’s privacy under our FTC-compliant privacy program.” that order was introduced after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and says Facebook must obtain “positive explicit consent” from users before sharing information with a third party (known as the “consent regulation”) and maintain a “comprehensive privacy program”.
Facebook’s wording of which part of the FTC’s order obliged it to act is unclear, but the agency was still dissatisfied with its allegations. Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Consumer Agency, complained to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a letter Washington Post.
“If you had respected your commitment to contact us in advance, we would have pointed out that the Consent Regulation does not prevent Facebook from creating exceptions to charitable research in the public interest,” Levine wrote. “I appreciate that Facebook has now fixed the record, but I’m disappointed with how your business has done in this matter.”
Later Interview with Wired, Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne acknowledged that the FTC ‘s consent regulation did not force a hand, but rather a condition that Facebook maintain a “comprehensive privacy program” that investigators are violating. However, this is a decision for Facebook, not the FTC. If Facebook wanted to, it could allow such an investigation in its privacy program.
The study itself was based on a browser extension called Ad Observer, which Facebook users can install to gather information about what political ads are shown to them and why. Researchers gather this information together to provide more information about political advertising. This work will help track the funders of political campaigns and will also help track false information on Facebook because political ads are not factually reviewed. The Ad Observer plugin is still alive and well, but Facebook banned pages promoting the project on the social network as well as the personal accounts of the researchers involved in the work.
Facebook also says it denied the plug-in because it violated users ’privacy by collecting information about users who hadn’t installed it. But an independent review of the extension code, according to Mozilla, this claim is also false. Like Mozilla’s Marshall Erwin wrote in a blog post (emphasis added): “We decided to recommend Ad Observer because our reviews reassured us that it respects users’ privacy and supports transparency. It collects ads, targeting parameters, and ad-related metadata. It does not collect personal messages or information about your friends. And it does not compile a user profile for its servers. “
We’ve contacted Facebook to comment and update this story if we hear back.