Facebook disables accounts of NYU team looking into political ad targeting


In advance of the US election last year, a crew of researchers from New York University’s engineering school released a challenge to collect additional info on political adverts. In particular, the crew wanted to know how political advertisers decide on the demographic their adverts focus on and really don’t focus on. Soon just after the challenge identified as the NYU Ad Observatory went dwell, even so, Fb notified the researchers that their endeavours violate its phrases of company related to bulk info collection. Now, the social network has announced that it has “disabled the accounts, apps, Pages and platform obtain associated with NYU’s Ad Observatory Undertaking and its operators…”

The researchers made a browser extension to gather info on the political adverts the site demonstrates the hundreds of people who volunteered to be part of the initiative. Fb claims, even so, that the plug-in was built to keep away from its detection system and phone calls what it can do “unauthorized scraping.” The extension “scrape[d] info this kind of as usernames, adverts, back links to person profiles and ‘Why am I looking at this advert?’ details,” Fb wrote in its announcement. It also mentioned that the extension gathered info about Fb customers who did not set up it and did not consent to choose part in the challenge.

The business wrote that it built “repeated tries to carry [the team’s] research into compliance with [its] Conditions.” That evidently incorporated inviting the researchers to obtain its US 2020 Elections advert targeting info through FORT’s Researcher Platform. Fb mentioned the info set on the platform could offer you additional extensive details than what the extension can gather, but the researchers declined its invitation. 

As The Wall Street Journal outlined in its report last year, Fb has an archive of advertisements on its platform, which consists of info on who paid for an advert, when it ran and the spot of the people who observed it. On the other hand, it would not incorporate targeting details, this kind of as how it is really determined who sees the advert. On its site, Ad Observer researchers wrote: “We think it is really critical to democracy to be able to test who is seeking to affect the public and how.” 

Fb is adamant that it disabled the project’s obtain to its platform because it knowingly violated the website’s phrases towards scraping. It blocked the team’s obtain to its platform, it mentioned, in buy to “halt unauthorized scraping and secure people’s privateness in line with [its] privateness system.” Right after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it agreed to an up to date coverage with the FTC, which pushed the social network to restrict third-celebration obtain to its info. We asked the Ad Observer crew for a assertion and will update this post if we hear again. 

Update 8/04/21 7PM ET: Laura Edelson, the guide researcher powering NYU Cybersecurity for Democracy, which operates Ad Observatory, instructed Engadget in a assertion:

“This night, Fb suspended my Fb account and the accounts of numerous people associated with Cybersecurity for Democracy, our crew at NYU. This has the outcome of reducing off our obtain to Facebook’s Ad Library info, as properly as Crowdtangle. In excess of the last numerous many years, we have applied this obtain to uncover systemic flaws in the Fb Ad Library, to discover misinformation in political adverts such as a lot of sowing distrust in our election system, and to examine Facebook’s evident amplification of partisan misinformation. By suspending our accounts, Fb has correctly ended all this perform. Fb has also correctly reduce off obtain to additional than two dozen other researchers and journalists who get obtain to Fb info through our challenge, such as our perform measuring vaccine misinformation with the Virality Undertaking and a lot of other partners who rely on our info.

The perform our crew does to make info about disinformation on Fb clear is vital to a healthier net and a healthier democracy. Fb is silencing us because our perform usually phone calls interest to issues on its platform. Worst of all, Fb is applying person privateness, a core perception that we have normally put 1st in our perform, as a pretext for carrying out this. If this episode demonstrates something it is that Fb really should not have veto ability above who is allowed to examine them.”

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