Facebook Demands Academics Disable Ad-Targeting Data Tool

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Academics, journalists, and First Amendment lawyers are rallying in the back of New York University researchers in a showdown with Facebook over its demand that they halt the collection of data showing who is being micro-targeted by political ads on the world’s dominant social media platform.

The researchers say the disputed tool is imperative to understanding how Facebook has been used as a conduit for disinformation and manipulation.

In an October 16 letter to the researchers, a Facebook executive demanded they disable a special plug-in for Chrome and Firefox browsers used by 6,500 volunteers across america and delete the data obtained. The plug-in lets researchers see which ads are shown to every volunteer; Facebook lets advertisers tailor ads based on particular demographics that go far beyond race, age, gender and political preference.

The executive, Allison Hendrix, said the tool violates Facebook rules prohibiting automated bulk collection of data from the site. Her letter threatened “extra enforcement action” whether the takedown was once not effected by Nov. 30.

Company spokesman Joe Osborne said in an emailed observation Saturday that Facebook “informed NYU months ago that moving forward with a project to scrape people’s Facebook information would violate our terms.” The company has long claimed protecting user privacy is its main concern, though NYU researchers say their tool is programmed so the data collected from participating volunteers is nameless.

The outcry over Facebook’s threat was once instant after The Wall Road Publication first reported the news Friday considering the valuable insights the “Ad Observer” tool provides. It has been used since its September launch by native reporters from Wisconsin to Utah to Florida to write approximately the November 3 presidential election.

“That Facebook is attempting to close down a tool the most important to exposing disinformation in the run up to one of the vital consequential elections in US history is alarming,” said Ramya Krishnan, an attorney with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which is representing the researchers. “The public has a correct to realize what political ads are being run and how they’re being targeted. Facebook should not be allowed to be the gatekeeper to information essential to safeguard our democracy. “

“The NYU Ad Observatory is the only window researchers have to see microtargeting information approximately political ads on Facebook,” Julia Angwin, editor of the data-centric investigative tech news website The Markup, tweeted in disappointment.

The tool lets researchers see how some Facebook advertisers use data gathered by the company to profile citizens “and send them misinformation approximately candidates and policies that are designed to influence or even suppress their vote,” Damon McCoy, an NYU professor involved in the project, said in a observation.

After an uproar over its lack of transparency on political ads Facebook ran ahead of the 2016 election, a sharp contrast to how ads are regulated on traditional media, the company created an ad archive that includes details such as who paid for an ad and when it ran. But Facebook does not share information approximately who gets served the ad.

The company has resisted allowing researchers access to the platform, where right-wing satisfied has consistently been trending in recent weeks. Final year, more than 200 researchers signed a letter to Facebook calling on it to lift restrictions on public-interest research and journalism that would permit automated digital collection of data from the platform.

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