Facebook shuts down research, blames user privacy rules

August 5, 2021

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Last October, Facebook warned a group of social scientists from New York University that their research—known as the Ad Observatory, part of the Cybersecurity for Democracy Project—was in breach of the social network’s terms of service. It said the group used software to “scrape” information from Facebook without the consent of users. The company said that unless the researchers stopped using the browser extension they developed, or changed the way that it acquired information, they would be subject to “additional enforcement action.” Late Tuesday night, Facebook followed through on this threat by blocking the group from accessing any of the platform’s data, and also shutting down the researchers’ personal accounts and pages. In a blog post, the company said it did so because the browser extension violated users’ privacy. “While the Ad Observatory project may be well-intentioned, the ongoing and continued violations of protections against scraping cannot be ignored,” Facebook said...

Rebekah Tromble, the director of the Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics at George Washington University, wrote a research paper earlier this year about the challenges of getting data from platforms like Facebook and Twitter—both of which she has dealt with, as an advisor with the Social Science One group, and as the lead researcher on a project that is being done in partnership with Twitter. 

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