Because academics acquired data from Facebook users without their knowledge, Facebook deleted accounts linked to a New York University (NYU) study that evaluated political advertising and the spread of misinformation on the social network on Tuesday.
According to Mike Clark, a director of product management on Facebook’s privacy team, the company also disabled other apps and services associated with the research project, as well as revoked the researchers’ access to Facebook’s APIs, which are used to share data from Facebook with other apps or services.
Prior to the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, researchers created the NYU Ad Observatory to make it simpler for journalists, policymakers, and the general public to detect trends in Facebook political ad targeting. As part of the research, NYU developed a Facebook browser plug-in that replicates the advertising that users view on the social network and stores them in a public database. Usernames, URLs to user profiles, and information on why people view a specific ad was also collected by the browser plugin, which isn’t publicly available.
The NYU-led research effort began in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. election in order to better understand the tens of thousands of political advertisements on Facebook. Political advertising on Facebook is searchable and includes demographic information such as the gender and location of those who saw the ad. However, the database lacks information on how an ad was targeted, which was one of the Ad Observatory’s main goals.
For years, political advertisements on Facebook have been a subject of controversy. The firm has a contentious policy prohibiting fact-checking political advertisements, which has sparked accusations that candidates are paying the company to propagate misinformation through their advertising. In the week coming up to the 2020 U.S. election, Facebook suspended all new political advertisements to combat disinformation.