Facebook has blocked political advertising investigations and misrepresented the FTC’s privacy order

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When Facebook revoked the account of a New York University researcher who was investigating false information and political advertising on the platform, the social media giant said it was. Consent decree Previously agreed with the Federal Trade Commission. “We have taken these steps to prevent fraudulent scraping and protect people’s privacy in line with our FTC-ordered privacy program,” Facebook said. explanation Account suspension. “We have disabled access to accounts, apps, pages and platforms associated with NYU’s Ad Observatory Project and its operators,” Facebook said.

But Facebook’s claim that the FTC’s order forced researchers to suspend is false, wrote Samuel Levine, deputy director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Agency. Letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg On thursday. The FTC order required Facebook to create a privacy program, but there was no requirement to force Facebook to shut down NYU’s research projects. Nonetheless, Facebook’s statement that it suspended its account “in line with the FTC-ordered privacy program” conveys a false message that Facebook had no choice on this issue.

Levine’s three-paragraph letter to Zuckerberg said:

I write about Facebook’s recent hint that its actions on an academic research project carried out by the New York University Advertising Observatory were required by a company consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. As the company admits, this is inaccurate. FTC Man, And an effort to protect targeted advertising practices from scrutiny that goes against its mission.

Thank you Facebook for breaking the record, but disappointed with how your company acted on this matter. Last week, Facebook’s general counsel Jennifer Newsted promised the company “timely and transparent communication with BCP staff on important developments.” Still, the FTC did not receive a notice that Facebook would publicly invoke our Consent Decree to justify ending its academic research earlier this week.

If you respect your commitment to contact us in advance, you would have pointed out that the Consent Decree does not prevent Facebook from making an exception to a sincere study for the public good. In fact, the FTC supports efforts to shed light on opaque business practices, especially with regard to surveillance-based advertising. Resolving individual disputes between Facebook and third parties is not our role, but as an excuse to promote other purposes, we hope that the company will not call for privacy, let alone the FTC’s consent order. increase.

Facebook calls “ironically[d] User privacy “

“Facebook suddenly closed the accounts of New York University researchers Laura Edelson and Damon McCoy to prevent political advertising research and the spread of false information on the platform,” he said on Tuesday. I have written The Night First Correction Institute at Columbia University, which represents Edelson and McCoy in this regard.

Edelson and McCoy used the Ad Observer to investigate Facebook. “A browser plugin created by them and others that allows Facebook users to voluntarily share limited anonymous information about political ads displayed by the platform with researchers.”

Facebook’s actions have led researchers to “reveal systematic flaws in the Facebook advertising library, identify false information in political advertising, including a lot of distrust of the electoral system, and of Facebook’s partisan false information. Edelson said he blocked the access he used to study the apparent amplification. .. “Facebook tried to shut down all this work by suspending our account,” Edelson said. “Facebook is my Facebook account and the New York University team Cyber ​​security for Democracy. Suspended several accounts related to Facebook. “

“Facebook shouldn’t be able to ironically call on users’ privacy to stop investigations that expose users to unpleasant light,” McCoy said.

“It’s shameful that Facebook is trying to crush the legitimate research that is informing the public about disinformation on their platform. That platform is for manipulating disinformation and the masses on vaccines. It’s full of partisan campaigns. “McCoy also said.

FTC website state In 2019, Facebook agreed to a $ 5 billion settlement with a committee “in connection with allegations of violating the 2012 FTC privacy order by tricking users into their ability to manage the privacy of their personal information.” Facebook had to pay a penalty and change its privacy practices. NS Reconciliation mainly resulted From Facebook, a third-party app developer Cambridge Analytica Scandal..

Researchers deny Facebook’s claim

When Facebook suspends NYU researchers, the Ad Observer browser extension is programmed to “avoid the detection system and retrieve data such as usernames, ads, links to user profiles, etc.” , “Why do you see this ad?” This extension also collected data about Facebook users who did not install or consent to the collection. “

Researchers denied this, Edelman Tell NPR, “We don’t actually collect non-advertising, unpublished stuff, and we pay a lot of attention to how we do it.”

Advertising observer Website Browser extensions say they don’t collect personally identifiable information. “We copy the ads that appear on Facebook and YouTube so anyone can see them in our public database,” the site says. “If necessary, you can enter basic demographic information about yourself in the tool to better understand why advertisers targeted you.”

This is important because “advertisements usually disappear after being seen only by the audience that the advertiser wants to target.” “It’s difficult for the general public to monitor ads and make advertisers accountable,” says the project.

Facebook FTC Battle

New controversy will occur weeks after Facebook petition The FTC has removed Chair Lina Khan from antitrust proceedings against the company. Amazon has previously filed a similar evasion petition, but neither company has identified a conflict of interest in the usual sense that Khan requires him to refuse himself. They simply oppose the statement Kahn made before becoming chairman of the FTC about corporate competition and criticism.

A group of senators led by Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) On Wednesday Told both companies, “There is no basis for her repulsion under current federal ethics law or FTC case law. Your efforts to stand by Chair Khan make it possible to avoid accountability for anti-competitive behavior. It seems to be just an attempt to force the state. “

Facebook admits the truth to Wired

Facebook said it imposed a suspension about a year after first informing researchers that the extension violated Facebook’s Terms of Service.As Wired wrote on WednesdayFacebook’s allegation that the FTC’s order enforced that move is not totaled, “because the Consent Decree does not prohibit researchers from doing what they are doing.” Facebook acknowledged that the article said in response to Wired:

Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne admits that the consent decree did not force Facebook to suspend the researcher’s account. Rather, Section 7 of the Decree requires Facebook to implement a “privacy, confidentiality, and integrity protection” and “comprehensive privacy program” for user data, he says. It’s Facebook’s privacy program that prohibits what the ad-observer team is doing, not the consent decree itself. Specifically, according to Osborne, researchers “cannot access our products or collect data using automated means (without prior permission),” Facebook said. Repeatedly violated the Terms of Service section of. A blog post announcing an account ban mentions 10 scrapings.

Despite its approval, Facebook’s blog post still states that Facebook has suspended researchers to “protect people’s privacy in line with our privacy program under FTC orders.” Was included.

I asked Facebook why I didn’t change or delete the sentence. A Facebook spokesman replied to our email but didn’t answer the question. Facebook has blocked political advertising investigations and misrepresented the FTC’s privacy order

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