Prior to last year’s U.S. election, a team of researchers from New York University School of Engineering launched a project to collect more data on political advertisements. The team especially wanted to know how political advertisers choose the demographic category targeted by their ads and don’t meta. Shortly after the project called NYU Ad Observatory started, however, Facebook informed researchers that their efforts violate its terms of service relating to the collection of mass data. Now the social network has announced that it has “disabled accounts, applications, pages and access to the platform associated with the NYU Ad Observatory Project and its operators …”
Researchers have created a browser extension to collect data on political ads where the website displays thousands of people who have volunteered to be part of the initiative. Facebook says, however, that the plugin was made to avoid a detection system and calls what it can do “unauthorized scraping”. Extension “scrape[d] information such as usernames, ads, links to user profiles and ‘Why do I see this ad?’ information, “Facebook wrote in a statement. It was also noted that the extension collected data on Facebook users who did not install it and did not agree to participate in the project.
The company wrote that it “repeated attempts to bring [the team’s] compliance research with [its] Conditions. “This apparently involved inviting researchers to access data targeting ads for the 2020 U.S. election through FORT’s researcher platform. Facebook said the data on the platform could offer more comprehensive information than what the extension could collect, but they researchers declined his call.
As The Wall Street Journal mentioned in its report last year, Facebook has an ad archive on its platform, which includes information on who paid for the ad, when it was displayed, and the location of people who saw it. However, it does not contain targeting information, such as how to determine who sees the ad. On its website researchers Ad Observer wrote: “We think it is important for democracy to be able to check who is influencing the public and in what way.”
Facebook is adamant that it has denied access to the project to its platform because it knowingly violated the terms of the anti-scraping website. The team blocked access to their platform, in order to “stop unauthorized scratching and protect people’s privacy in accordance with [its] privacy program. “After Cambridge Analytica scandal, agreed to an updated policy with the FTC, which prompted the social network to limit third party access to its data. We have requested a statement from the Ad Observer team and will update this post if they contact us.
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