New York University researchers accused Facebook of “silencing” their accounts after they were disabled

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A group of researchers at New York University who studied Facebook’s political ad targeting practices accused the social media company of “silencing” them after cutting off their access to the platform.

The New York University Advertising Observatory, part of the New York University Cyber ​​Security Center, has been running a project since last year. 16,000 volunteers downloaded a browser extension that allowed them to collect data about political ads shown to these users on Facebook.

It aims to reveal trends around advertising funding and misinformation, and whether the content is micro-targeted for certain groups of people. The department is also part of a coalition of researchers working on misinformation about coronavirus vaccines.

However, Facebook, which did not authorize the project, sent a suspension and termination letter to researchers last year on the grounds of privacy issues, urging them to stop data collection.

Later on Tuesday, Facebook stated in a blog post that it had “disabled access to accounts, applications, pages, and platforms related to the project,” including academic personal accounts, in violation of its terms of service.

In particular, it stated that the researcher’s browser extension grabbed data that was not publicly viewable on the platform and “information about Facebook users who have not installed or agreed to the collection”.

Facebook’s director of product management Mike Clark wrote in the post: “We are taking these actions to prevent unauthorized crawling and to protect people’s privacy in accordance with our privacy plan.”

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, social networks tried to better control the data that outsiders can access. The data of 87 million users was collected by an academic and shared with the now-defunct political consulting firm.

But critics believe that to prevent responsible research on its platform, it has raised privacy issues.A sort of Separate Facebook-supported plan Sharing data with social science scholars in 2019 was also hampered by company privacy concerns.

Facebook has a public political advertising transparency library, which contains information such as the people behind the political advertising and how much is spent on these ads.However, it does not outline how the ads are targeted at users, and the library itself has Something wrong.

Laura Edelson, the lead researcher of Ad Observatory, accused Facebook of “silencing” her project in a statement because it revealed problems on its platform and stated that the organization “always [user privacy] The first is our work”.

“In the past few years, we have used this kind of access to discover systemic flaws in Facebook’s ad library, identify misinformation in political ads, including many distrusts of our election system, and study Facebook has clearly magnified Party misinformation,” Edelson said. “By suspending our account, Facebook effectively ended all this work.”

Mark Warner, chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement that the New York University project exposes “advertising that violates Facebook’s terms of service, fraudulent and predatory financial scheme ads, and the politics of being inappropriately omitted from Facebook’s lackluster ads. advertise”. library”.

He called the company’s decision “deeply worrying” and called on Congress to take action to “bring greater transparency to the dark world of online advertising.”

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