Facebook has closed the personal accounts of two researchers at New York University and closed their investigation into disinformation disseminated through political ads on the social network.
Facebook claims researchers violated its terms of service and were involved in unauthorized data collection from its huge network. Academics, however, say the company is trying to exert control over research that portrays it in a negative light.
NYU researchers from the Ad Observatory Project have been examining Facebook’s ad library for several years, where ads can be searched for ads served on Facebook products.
The access was used to “uncover systemic loopholes in Facebook’s ad library, to identify disinformation in political ads, including many that sow distrust of our electoral system, and to study the apparent amplification of disinformation partisan through Facebook, ”said Laura Edelson, the senior researcher behind NYU Cybersecurity for Democracy, in a statement.
Facebook’s action against Project NYU also cut off other researchers and reporters who gained access to Facebook’s data through the project, Edelson said.
The researchers offered Facebook users a web browser plug-in tool that allowed them to voluntarily provide data showing how the social network targets political ads.
But Facebook said the browser extension was programmed to evade its detection systems and suck up user data, creating privacy concerns.
In a blog post Tuesday night, Facebook said it takes “unauthorized data scraping seriously, and when we find cases of the scraping, we investigate and take action to protect our platform.”
Facebook sent a cease and desist letter to Edelson and fellow researcher Damon McCoy in October, but only closed their accounts on Tuesday, hours after Edelson informed the platform that she and McCoy were studying the spread of disinformation on the platform. about the Jan.6 attack on the United States Capitol, the researchers said.
Mike Clark, director of product management for Facebook, wrote in the blog post that the Menlo Park, Calif., Company welcomes research that holds it accountable but does not compromise the security of the platform or user privacy.
“While the Ad Observatory project may be well intentioned, the continued and ongoing violations of scratching protections cannot be ignored and must be addressed,” he wrote.