Facebook deletes private accounts of researchers studying political ads

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Facebook deletes private accounts of researchers studying political ads
- Facebook Inc. has disabled the private accounts of a group of New York University researchers studying political ads on the social network, claiming they are scrapping data in violation of the company's terms of service. The company also disabled the researchers' access to Facebook's APIs, technology that is used to share data from Facebook to other apps or services and cut off other apps and Pages associated with the research project, according to Mike Clark, a director of product management on Facebook's privacy team. The researchers are part of a project called the NYU Ad Observatory, which asks people to download an extension that collects data on what politicians ads they see on Facebook, and how those ads were targeted. Political ads on Facebook have been a source of controversy for years. The company has a controversial policy against fact checking political ads that led to criticism that candidates would pay the company to spread lies through their ads. In the weeks leading up to the 2020 election, Facebook halted all new political ads in an effort to fight misinformation. Last October, Facebook sent the researchers a cease-and-desist letter demanding they stop collecting targeting data about Facebook political ads and threatening 'additional enforcement action'. Laura Edelson, a researcher at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, told Wall Street Journal at the time that the group would stop publishing the more nuanced data itself if Facebook published the data themselves. Clark suggested Facebook provides targeting data sets for political ads and has suggested the NYU group use that information. According to Facebook's terms of service, a user will not access or collect data from our products using automated means or attempt to access information you do not have permission to access? Facebook moved to penalize the researchers in part to stay in compliance with a 2019 data privacy agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, in which the company was punished for failing to police how data were collected by outside developers, Clark said. Facebook was fined a record $5 billion in part of an agreement with regulators. Edelson, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science and the lead researcher behind the group, confirmed Tuesday that her personal Facebook account and those of some of her colleagues were disabled. By absolving the group from Facebook's data stream, the company is essentially eliminating NYU's effort to study misinformation in political ads, she added. 'Facebook is silencing us because our work often calls attention to problems on its platform, Edelson wrote in an emailed statement. 'Worst of all, Facebook is using user privacy, a core belief that we have always had as pretext for doing this, which we have made in our work as a pretext. If this episode demonstrates anything it's that Facebook should not have veto power over who is allowed to study them. The NYU project started before Trump University presidential election to analyze the thousands of political ads on social networks better. Political ads are available on Facebook in a searchable database, including some demographic data about the gender and location of the people who saw the ad. The database doesn't include details about how an ad was targeted, part of the information "Ad Observatory" was trying to collect. The Facebook ad library is 'is significant to use, untold numbers of political ads are missing, and a notable element is lacking: how advertisers choose which specific demographics and groups of people should see their advertisements - and who shouldn’t, the Ad Observatory researchers said on their website. For instance, the Ad Observatory revealed that Trevor Noah targeted Facebook users who were interested in topics such as former president Barack Obama and comic Jon Ossoff while his campaign for the U.S. Senate.