AP

Facebook demands academics disable ad-targeting data tool

Oct 24, 2020, 3:03 PM

Facebook First Amendment...

FILE - In this March 29, 2018, file photo, the logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

BOSTON (AP) — Academics, journalists, and First Amendment lawyers are rallying behind 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 vital to understanding how Facebook has been used as a conduit for disinformation and manipulation.

In an Oct. 16 letter to the researchers, a Facebook executive demanded they disable a special plug-in for Chrome and Firefox browsers that they have distributed to thousands of volunteers across the U.S. — and delete the data obtained. The plug-in lets researchers see which ads are shown to each volunteer; Facebook lets advertisers tailor ads based on specific demographics that go far beyond race, age, gender, and political preference.

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

Company spokesman Joe Osborne said in an emailed statement 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 anonymous.

The outcry over Facebook’s threat was immediate after The Wall Street Journal first reported the news Friday because the “Ad Observer” tool provides valuable insights into what ads are targeting specific types of voters. It has been used by local reporters from Wisconsin to Utah to Florida to write about the Nov. 3 presidential election.

“That Facebook is trying to shut down a tool crucial to exposing disinformation in the run-up to one of the most consequential elections in U.S. 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 right to know what political ads are being run and how they are being targeted. Facebook shouldn’t be allowed to be the gatekeeper to information necessary to safeguard our democracy. ”

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

The tool is a key source of data on election interference and manipulation because it lets researchers see how some Facebook advertisers use data gathered by the company to profile citizens “and send them misinformation about 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 statement.

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 about who gets served the ad.

The company has resisted allowing researchers access to the platform, where right-wing content has consistently been trending in recent weeks. Last 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 the automated digital collection of data from the platform.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

AP

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a Republican campaign ...

WILL WEISSERT Associated Press

Haley says she raised $12M in February, can’t point to long-term plan to beat Trump

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said Friday that she raised $12 million in February, a haul that will likely allow her to remain in the Republican primary against former President Donald Trump past next week's Super Tuesday — even though she can't point to an upcoming state where she expects to beat him.

2 days ago

February, 29, otherwise know as leap year day, is shown on a calendar Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Ove...

LEANNE ITALIE AP Lifestyles Writer

What would happen without a Leap Day? More than you might think

Leap year. It's a delight for the calendar and math nerds among us. So how did it all begin and why?

4 days ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night ...

MEG KINNARD and WILL WEISSERT Associated Press

Trump wins South Carolina, easily beating Haley in her home state and closing in on GOP nomination

Donald Trump won South Carolina's Republican primary on Saturday further consolidating his path to a third straight GOP nomination.

8 days ago

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, center, sits with her attorney Jason Bowles, left, during the first day of t...

MORGAN LEE Associate Press

Negligence or scapegoating? Trial of ‘Rust’ armorer begins in fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin

Prosecutors sought to pin blame on a movie weapons supervisor for bringing live ammunition on set that contributed to the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin during production of the film "Rust."

10 days ago

A pail rests next to caution tape on a beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2...

Associated Press

Young girl killed when a hole she dug in the sand collapsed on a Florida beach, authorities said

A young girl died Tuesday when a deep hole she was digging collapsed on her at a south Florida beach, authorities said.

12 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018....

MEAD GRUVER Associated Press

A Colorado man is dead after a pet Gila monster bite

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death if the creature's venom was the cause.

12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Facebook demands academics disable ad-targeting data tool