LONDON: Facebook suspended the personal accounts of a group of researchers on Tuesday for publishing academic studies about the platform at “the expense of people’s privacy.”
The suspended accounts belong to members of the Cybersecurity for Democracy project at New York University (NYU) who criticized the platform’s political advertizing transparency tools, revealing a number of flaws.
“We repeatedly explained our privacy concerns to NYU, but their researchers ultimately chose not to address them and instead resumed scraping people’s data and ads from our platform,” a Facebook spokesperson told Arab News.
“We have provided the researchers the opportunity to use our transparency tools in ways that don’t violate our terms and that are privacy-protective,” the spokesperson added. “We were left with no choice but to disable the researchers’ developer access, accounts and apps. We welcome academic study of our platform — just not at the expense of people’s privacy.”
The tool in question is a browser extension called Ad Observer, which can be downloaded voluntarily by Facebook users.
The users give the extension access to their personal Facebook pages in order to collect anonymized data about the adverts they see. That information then goes into a public database, where journalists and researchers can observe how and where politicians are focusing their spending.
Facebook has previously warned the researchers several times that Ad Observer was a breach of users’ privacy and issued them with a warning before the tool was even launched.
A researcher in NYU, Laura Edelson, tweeted on Tuesday that Facebook had suspended her account alongside other members of the group.
“This evening, Facebook suspended my Facebook account and the accounts of several people associated with Cybersecurity for Democracy, our team at NYU. This has the effect of cutting off our access to Facebook’s Ad Library data, as well as CrowdTangle,” she said.
Over the last several years, we’ve used this access to uncover systemic flaws in the Facebook Ad Library, identify misinformation in political ads including many sowing distrust in our election system, and to study Facebook’s apparent amplification of partisan misinformation. 2/4
— Laura Edelson (@LauraEdelson2) August 4, 2021
“Outside analysis of Facebook content from essential organizations like the Ad Observatory are increasingly exposing Facebook as a breeding ground for extremism and right wing trash,” a spokesperson for the Real Facebook Oversight Board, an activist group established to counter the company’s own Oversight Board, stated.
“Now like the authoritarian governments they court, Facebook is cracking down on its critics.”