A report by Mashable delves deeper into the recent restriction that Facebook imposed on the accounts of some researchers from the New York University, and it has some interesting things to say. As per the report, Facebook is “daring” authorities in the US to formulate legislations to get researchers and big tech firms to work together, by taking down a political ad research.
NYU Team’s Accounts Blocked
For the unversed, last week, Facebook had shut down a team of researchers looking into political ads and their relation with COVID misinformation on the platform. The social media giant claims that it had blocked the accounts and pages in a bid to prevent NYU’s Ad Observatory from studying and collecting information about political ads on Facebook, by means of a browser extension tool launched in 2020.
The company holds that the Ad Observatory had gained “unauthorized access” to the data, which, it alleges, they had been “scraping” without permission. The academics, however, assert that their extension was downloaded by users themselves so that they could share information on the type of ads they are seeing, with the team. Laura Edelson, a member of the group of researchers, has also said that the kind of data that was collected is public, and is readily accessible to everyone.
Edelson adds that this move has also cut off the data supply to dozens of journalists and researchers, who rely on the NYU Ad Observatory for their daily dose of information on Facebook and the many disinformation campaigns its platform is home to.
A Consent Decree, Or An Open Challenge?
The company and initially asserted that the block had been imposed owing to a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. But spokesperson Joe Osborne now says that the decree actually requires Facebook to set up rules for a privacy programme, which, he asserts, were violated by the group. He adds that had the NYU team contacted the firm “in advance,” the social media biggie would have been able to come up with an exception to the rules.
Underneath all this drama, however, seems to lie an open challenge to the US regulatory bodies. It appears as if Facebook is “daring” authorities to finally pursue regulation and formulate legislations, in the political ad sector. Social media platforms and research teams have been at loggerheads not once, but many times. And many (like The Verge’s Casey Newton) believe that only passing a solid privacy legislation, one that would ideally provide exceptions to academics for carrying out research into various aspects of social sites. An external oversight agency is also being called for.
And perhaps, such a legislation may soon come knocking, since senators like Sen. Mark Warner from Virginia, agrees that the “shadowy world of online advertising” needs to be made more transparent. However, at the same time, any solid steps do seem quite far away, as of now.