back to article Facebook tells academics to stop monitoring its political ads for any rule-breaking.... on privacy grounds

Facebook has ordered the end to an academic monitoring project that has repeatedly exposed failures by the internet giant to clearly label political advertising on its platform. The social media goliath informed New York University (NYU) that research by its Tandon School of Engineering's Online Transparency Project's Ad …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And people still happily use this platform

    I’d rather have little to no contact from family and friends than succumb to using zuck’s zoo.

  2. Denarius Silver badge

    no surprise

    a business model under threat perhaps. Reminds me of a MAD article years ago about interviewing a sect leader with the interviewer, Mike Malice (sic) asking if a sect leaders advertising was misleading and the reply was, "Isn't all advertising?" I'll treat political sloganeering less contemptuously when truth in advertising laws apply to political ads, instead of having them explicitly excluded as in Oz. I use the term sloganeering because ads purport to inform. Mere slagging off does not meet that high standard

  3. chuckufarley
    Childcatcher

    For the third time...You can only choose one:

    A.) Facebook

    B.) Truth and Justice for All

    1. Denarius Silver badge

      Re: For the third time...You can only choose one:

      or neither

      1. chuckufarley

        Re: For the third time...You can only choose one:

        Oh, my child! Not choosing a choice in and of itself.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: For the third time...You can only choose one:

          Who said anything about "neither" being a choice?

          It's merely the outcome in a broken system. And no, that isn't an attempt to discredit Trump, just a view on the long standing US model of corporate "justice" where money tends to dictate the outcome regardless of the moral or ethical implications.

    2. Kane Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: For the third time...You can only choose one:

      "A.) Facebook

      B.) Truth and Justice for All"

      B-i) Freedom

      B-ii) Reasonably Priced Love

      B-iii) A Hard Boiled Egg

  4. heyrick Silver badge
    FAIL

    Shoot the messenger

    (see title)

  5. sinsi

    Scraping?

    It's not scraping a website if the information is there in the browser, surely?

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Scraping?

      Technically, yes, it is scraping everything that the website sends to the browser.

      The caveat is that the browser extension was installed by choice by volunteers who had full knowledge of what it does and why. They can also remove the extension at any time should they wish and I’d expect that NYU would remove any volunteers data from the study if asked.

      OTOH FB collects data about you every time you touch a website containing a FB icon or just carry your phone with you and does its level best NOT to let you find out what it’s doing with it.

      1. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge

        Re: Scraping?

        It's not easy to see the distinction between the automated process and the user taking a photo of the information displayed on their screen and sending that to a researcher... or even just calling a mate over to look at the screen: "Oo, look what Facebook threw at me".

        I wouldn't call it scraping because it doesn't indiscriminately hoover up everything it can. It's targeted, it only collects data for a specific reason, and the user has requested that it does so.

        If Facebook doesn't want people sharing the information it pushes at users, then maybe it should be more careful about what it pushes...

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Scraping?

      And there is no data protection issue, the users have manually installed the add-in/plugin and have chosen to share the adverts with AdObservatory.

  6. lglethal Silver badge

    Why not just making it so that EVERY Ad has to display who's paying for it, complete with business address and telephone number?

    Too easy?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And an "independent" adjudicator that approves ads before they can be published financed by the industry?

      It's not perfect but it broadly works in existing media.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Wouldn't provide useful info

      You see an ad and below it is says "sponsored by Campaign Against Wearing Masks" or "sponsored by SWCA" what does that tell you? The really problematic stuff isn't sponsored by the parties or campaigns, it is sponsored by organizations you've never heard of. If they are worried you might have heard of them the dark money groups can set up a shell company they create just to run ads on Facebook for a couple months".

      Good luck getting information about who owns them, especially if they are deliberately doing shady things and are operating through enough layers that there's no way to tell where their money came from.

  7. RyokuMas Silver badge
    WTF?

    Facebook has ads?

    Since when?

    Too bad the "revert site" option no longer works... but I honest-to-god can't see why anyone who has to use Facebook (I do for project promotion reasons) doesn't immediately install this extension.

  8. Chris G Silver badge

    If such a thing as social pollution exists, Faecebook is it.

    It sits there way above any political or philosophical social malady because it either enables them and/or profits from them.

    I was disgusted by Facebook the first time I looked at them twenty odd years ago and they have steadily gone downhill since.

    1. ibmalone Silver badge

      Founded in 2004

      1. Bitsminer Bronze badge

        2020 subtract 2004 equals, uhh, clickety clickety, 16.

        Poor man only has eight fingers, so he is correct, base 8.

  9. Maelstorm Bronze badge
    Big Brother

    Pot, meet Kettle.

    So Facebook is trying to shutdown an academic research project that has found wide violations of stated policy? It sounds like they don't want that getting out. I hope they do make it public.

    Facebook threating NYU because they uncovered unethical behavior at FB is like the SS threating the U.S if they don't burn the newsreels showing the SS's "ethics" at Auschwitz.

  10. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Clearly Zuckerberg is grasping a straws claiming user privacy concerns as he has no care about that when selling their data off to the highest bidder to fling ads at them. As for classing a browser extension as website scraping then surely adblockers are also against their T&Cs then as they alter the content once it reaches the users browser.

    And you won't find me visiting Facebook without firefox containers and ublock origin enabled on my browser.

    I would really like someone with deep pockets to challenge all these website T&Cs as I am sure that if it went to court a lot of it would be found to be BS and not have any legal basis at all.

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Flame

    "the browser plugin scrapes information in violation of our terms"

    Your terms do not govern my right of using my browser however I feel like using it.

    This is just The Zuck in panic mode whenever someone else is controlling "his" information - especially when it doesn't make him look good (when did that ever happen ?).

    1. mevets Bronze badge

      Re: "the browser plugin scrapes information in violation of our terms"

      I'm surprised they haven't tried to blackout the github page. It isn't exactly a sanctuary site.

  12. BazNav

    Are Facebook taking ownership of the Ads they fling?

    They can't play it both ways;

    either they are responsible for the ads they fling at their users, they can try to impose their stupid rules on scraping BUT they're also breaching the Computer Misuse Act if they send any ad with malware in to any computer in the UK

    OR they are just a broker for the ads and aren't responsible for the content in which case they can't stop you scraping something that they're not responsible for.

    Governments need to stop companies playing both sides of every argument. If you state something in a legal case then that is your position fixed, you don't get to change it every time!

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Are Facebook taking ownership of the Ads they fling?

      Governments need to stop companies playing both sides of every argument. If you state something in a legal case then that is your position fixed, you don't get to change it every time!

      This is the situation. It's called a precedent.

    2. MrBanana Silver badge

      Re: Are Facebook taking ownership of the Ads they fling?

      "Governments need to stop companies playing both sides of every argument. If you state something in a legal case then that is your position fixed, you don't get to change it every time!"

      Unless it is the government making that statement. They seem able to have a very vague sense of understanding of even their own rules.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Are Facebook taking ownership of the Ads they fling?

        @ MrBanana.

        Umm, not that I want to correct you or anything, but what makes you think that governments feel constrained by their own rules? Recent examples of Dominic Cummings visiting his family 'up North', and staying in a home which possibly did not even have planning permission, and then visiting Barnard Castle to 'test that his eyesight was good enough to drive' spring to mind.

        References:

        https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/52828076

        and

        https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-53001428

        Plus, of course the UK Prime Minister not even able to explain his own Covid-19 lockdown rules.

        There, there, have a lie down, and listen to some nice relaxing music, I recommend Mozart's Bassoon concerto in B flat, KV 191. That's what I do.

  13. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    As Oscar Wilde remarked …

    … you'd have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.

  14. DS999 Silver badge

    Facebook has no case against the academics

    All they did was develop a browser extension and collect and publish the information it sends. They have no relationship with Facebook, so Facebook has no standing to sue them. Its an empty threat.

    Facebook may have a case against the 6500 volunteers - I'm sure buried somewhere in their terms of service is something that would ban them from what they're doing by installing the browser extension. But big deal, they could delete their account and tell them they are no longer welcome on Facebook. If they've willingly installed this browser extension, they probably already feel Facebook is up to some shady stuff and wouldn't shed more than a couple tears if they were forced offline.

  15. cortland

    An alternative:

    Solicit non-members of the organization to complain, and not load FB themselves. Of course, this suffers from quite likely including falsehoods, but FB may be said to have "asked for it". Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  16. jason_derp Silver badge
    Happy

    “Scraping tools, no matter how well-intentioned, are not a permissible means of collecting information from us,”

    Ah yes. Well, you can have a hefty, hearty, "go get f*cked by a bulldozer" from me Facebook. And when you're done with that, go do it again, for good measure.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Round Earthers

    All conspiracy theory put about by the Round Earthers to hit at the only true font of truth and enlightenment.

  18. Jay Lenovo
    Black Helicopters

    1st rule of Facebook, don't talk about Facebook

    The actual issue, is Facebook taking offense that their own users are willingly sharing their Facebook experience.

    Of course, the correct course of action is to shutdown all these Facebook accounts which violate the terms.

    But then, how many accounts would be left?

    The problem lies within, not on a third party academic group.

  19. very angry man

    where do i get this app

    where do i get this app? will it work if i dont have a facebook acc? Oh well love you all keep up the good work.

  20. Gene Jones

    Zuck Abhors Oversight

    The last thing Zuck needs is someone blowing the whistle on the way Facebook stifles GOP ads in favor of Dem ads.

  21. John Jennings Silver badge

    you guys really need a GDPR

    The data collected by the observatory is clearly consented to.

    The back end data is public - ie the sponsor etc. from FBs own library

    The adds are there because of automatic decision making - giving the user extended rights

    An effective GDPR equivalent would force FB into proper disclosure, and the University could use it as a shield to protect itself.

  22. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    The void stares back, and releases a statement

    our terms, which are designed to protect people's privacy

    Let's take a moment to consider the depths of soullessness that it takes to (a) accept a job as a "Facebook privacy policy official," and (b) write or speak those words.

    Thoughts and prayers.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stop scraping my life

    Ironic that I can't scrape what they've done with the information they scrapped from me.

  24. kingnormie

    How I fixed 'most' of my facebook related problems

    The best Solution I have personally. is to add "||facebook.com^" to my ublock origin blocklist. this totally blocks the website from loading in browser. now accidental misclick on websites social media buttons do not take me facebook.

    1. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
      Big Brother

      Re: How I fixed 'most' of my facebook related problems

      If you have uBlock Origin set right, you shouldn't be seeing any social media buttons at all ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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