It has been widely reported that Facebook has blocked a team of New York University researchers studying political ads and COVID-19 misinformation from accessing its site.
Consumer Reports strongly condemns both Facebook’s account termination for the NYU researchers who built the Ad Observer browser tool, and the disingenuous excuse of privacy claims by which they attempt to justify these actions. At a time when the nation is grappling with issues like misinformation, targeted advertising, and algorithmic bias, Americans need more transparency and accountability for internet platforms, not less.
Facebook executives have demonstrated that they are committed to blocking tools that might uncover uncomfortable truths about the company. In order to address these serious problems, CR recommends the following actions:
- We urge the FTC to confirm that nothing in its 2019 Consent Decree requires this course of action, and to pursue further action to address the targeted advertising ecosystem.
- We urge Congress to prioritize legislation that would mandate and ensure public-interest researcher and agency access to data around ad targeting and algorithmic recommendations.
- We urge Facebook to restore access to the researchers in question in order to ensure that further crucial research into misinformation is not impeded in the interim; and, even in the absence of legislation, to provide substantially more transparency both to researchers and to the public on its ad targeting.