NYU Researchers Accuse Facebook of “Silencing” Them After Accounts Deactivated
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A group of New York University researchers studying Facebook’s political ad targeting practices accused the social media company of “silencing” them after cutting their access to the platform.
The NYU Ad Observatory, part of the university’s Center for Cybersecurity, ran a project last year in which 16,000 volunteers downloaded a browser extension that allows them to collect data on political advertising shown at these users on Facebook.
It aimed to uncover trends in ad funding and disinformation, and whether content was micro-targeted to certain demographics. The department is also part of a coalition of researchers studying disinformation about coronavirus vaccines.
However, Facebook, which had not licensed the project, sent cease and desist letters to researchers last year, urging them to end data collection, citing privacy concerns.
In particular, he said that the researchers’ browser extension had retrieved data that was not publicly visible on the platform and information “about Facebook users who did not install it or did not have it installed. not consented to the collection “.
“We have taken these steps to stop unauthorized scratching and protect individual privacy in accordance with our privacy program,” wrote Mike Clark, director of product management for Facebook.
The social network has sought to better control the data that strangers can access in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data of 87 million users was collected by an academic and shared with the political consultancy firm today. faded away.
But critics say he has exercised privacy concerns to block responsible research on his platform. A separate Facebook-backed initiative to share data with social science academics in 2019 was also hampered by the company’s privacy concerns.
Facebook has a public political ad transparency library that contains information such as who is behind political ads and how much has been spent on them. However, it doesn’t describe how the ads were targeted to users, and the library itself was flawed.
In a statement, Laura Edelson, principal researcher at the Ad Observatory, accused Facebook of “shutting down” her project for highlighting problems on its platform, and said the group had “always put [user privacy] first in our work ”.
“Over the past several years, we’ve used this access to uncover systemic loopholes in Facebook’s ad library, to identify disinformation in political ads, including many that create distrust of our electoral system, and to study the apparent amplification of partisan misinformation by Facebook. Edelson mentioned. “By suspending our accounts, Facebook has effectively ended all of this work.”
Mark Warner, chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that Project NYU revealed “advertisements that violate Facebook’s terms of service, advertisements for predatory fraud and financial schemes, and advertisements policies that were wrongly omitted from lackluster Facebook advertising. Library”.
He called the company’s move “deeply concerning” and called on Congress to take action “to bring greater transparency to the dark world of online advertising.”