Facebook Disabled Accounts Tied to NYU Research Group

Facebook has disabled the personal accounts of a group of New York University researchers who were studying political ads on Facebook’s platform, Bloomberg reported. Facebook has claimed that the researchers were scraping data in violation of Facebook’s terms of service.

The company also cut off the researchers’ access to Facebook’s APIs, technology that is used to share data from Facebook to other apps or services, and disabled other apps and Pages associated with the research project, according to Mike Clark, a director of product management on Facebook’s privacy team.

The project is called NYU Ad Observatory. It appears to be connected to NYU Cybersecurity for Democracy and the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

According to Bloomberg, Facebook sent the NYU Ad Observatory researchers a cease-and-desist letter last October, demanding that they stop collecting data about Facebook political ads and threatening “additional enforcement action.”

Facebook posted on its Newsroom an article titled: “Research Cannot Be the Justification for Compromising People’s Privacy”. In it, Facebook claims it disabled the accounts, apps, Pages and platform access associated with NYU’s Ad Observatory Project and its operators “after repeated attempts to bring their research into compliance with our Terms”.

Facebook claims that the researchers gathered data by creating a browser extension that was programed “to evade our detection systems and scrape data such as usernames, ads, links to user’s profiles and ‘Why am I seeing this ad?’ information, some of which is not publicly-viewable on Facebook”.

Mozilla posted an article titled “Why Facebook’s claims about the Ad Observer are wrong”. From the article:

“We decided to recommend Ad Observer because our reviews assured us that it respects user privacy and supports transparency. It collects ads, targeting parameters, and metadata associated with the ads. It does not collect personal posts or information about your friends. And it does not compile a user profile on its servers….”

What is Facebook trying to hide?