Sunday, September 19, 2021

FTC official slams Facebook for launching political ads investigation

by Marcy Gordon | The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A senior Federal Trade Commission official is criticizing Facebook’s move to shut down the personal accounts of two academic researchers and to end its investigation of misinformation spread through political ads on the social network.

Facebook abused a 2019 data-privacy agreement with the FTC to justify closing the accounts of New York University researchers this week, Samuel Levine, acting director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau, told Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday. said in a letter,

Levine also said that Facebook failed to honor a prior commitment to notify the FTC before taking such action.

Facebook said the researchers violated its terms of service and were involved in unauthorized data collection from its vast network. However, academics say the company is attempting to control research that portrays it negatively.

NYU researchers from the Ad Observatory Project had been looking for years in Facebook’s ad library to search for ads running on Facebook’s products.

Laura Adelson, the lead researcher behind the NYU study, “exposed systemic flaws in the Facebook ad library, identifying misinformation in political ads, including many sowing mistrust in our election system, and Facebook’s apparent expanse of partisan misinformation.” to” was used. Cyber ​​security for democracy, said on Wednesday.

Facebook agreed in a 2019 consent decree agreement with the FTC to pay a record $5 billion for alleged breaches of the privacy of users’ personal data.

But Levine said in his letter that the consent decree allows Facebook to make exceptions to the data collection restrictions “for good research in the public interest”.

“While it is not our role to resolve personal disputes between Facebook and third parties, we hope that the company is not invoking confidentiality – short of the FTC consent order – as an excuse to pursue other purposes, “The letter said.

Facebook’s action against the NYU project also cut off other researchers and journalists who had access to Facebook data through the project, according to NYU lead researcher Adelson.

Researchers offered Facebook users a web browser plug-in tool that lets them volunteer their data to see how the social network targets political ads.

But Facebook said the browser extension was programmed to evade its detection system and clear user data, raising privacy concerns.

In a blog post late Tuesday, Facebook said it “takes unauthorized data scraping seriously, and when we find instances of scraping we investigate and take action to protect our platform.”

Facebook representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Levine’s letter Thursday.

Levine wrote that after falsifying its actions against the researchers under the consent decree, Facebook later admitted it was wrong. He told Zuckerberg, “While I appreciate that Facebook has now corrected the record, I am disappointed with how your company has conducted itself on this matter.”

Facebook says it makes information on political ads available through its ad library and “privacy-protected data sets” to researchers through other means.

Facebook did not admit to wrongdoing in the 2019 agreement.

The FTC launched an investigation into Facebook in 2018, revealing that data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica had collected details on 87 million Facebook users without their permission.

In addition to privacy concerns, the FTC and Facebook have been wrangling over antitrust issues. The agency and 48 states and districts sued Facebook in December, accusing the tech giant of abusing its market power in social networking to crush smaller competitors. They were looking for measures that included a forced spinoff of the social network’s Instagram and WhatsApp messaging services.

FTC official slams Facebook for launching political ads investigation
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