Facebook has banned the personal accounts of several researchers from the NYU Ad Observatory who were investigating ad transparency and misinformation spread across its own platform. Facebook claims that by using a browser plugin that collects data on political ads spread across its platform the researchers have engaged in privacy scraping, and have violated the platforms terms of service.
Facebook doesn’t appreciate snooping
An ironic accusation considering the amount of fire Facebook remains under over its own privacy scraping practices surrounding ad targeting.
The NYU Ad Observatory researchers were completing a project looking into political ads on the social media platform, specifically where they come from and how far they reach. Their intention was to root out who pays for such ads and how the ad-targeting algorithm selects who it wants to see them.
To aid in their research, the team made Ad Observer, a browser plug-in that collects exactly that data: who first posted this ad, and why is it being shown to certain people? This information is then made publicly available in order to bring the platforms problems to light. The plugin does not collect any personal data, such as user names or Facebook ID numbers.
As The Verge notes, Facebook users can actually see some of the same data Ad Observer tracks on the platform itself. For example, if a user clicks on an ad, they can see why it was targeted to them based on their interests. So it’s not like the plugin is breaking into the source code to root out Facebook’s deepest darkest secrets.
The researchers were banned with the claim that they are violating its terms of service, and that Ad Observer collects data from “…private individuals” without their consent. At least now we know that Facebook considers public pages and advertising accounts specifically made to run political ads as private individuals. We only wonder when it might start treating bot accounts the same way.
The timing of this incident is unsettling, to say the least. Facebook recently announced it would be implementing more transparent policies on ads surrounding the upcoming South African governmental elections. For example, advertisers will have to undergo an ad authorisation process and will be required to place “paid for by” disclaimers on their ads to make it known who was responsible for them.
We think it’s safe to say that whatever goodwill Facebook earned with this ostensible move towards greater transparency has been undone by this backslide.
Source: The Verge