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FTC Criticizes Facebook Over Disabling Accounts Of NYU Researchers

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has recently blamed Facebook for deplatforming a group of New York University (NYU) researchers, Engadget reports.

These researchers were working on a project called Ad Observatory. The goal of the research was to investigate the political ads on Facebook and how the platform deals with this kind of ad. In a letter to Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, Acting Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Samuel Levine, blamed the company for kicking out the researchers from the platform. “While I appreciate that Facebook has now corrected the record, I am disappointed by how your company has conducted itself in this matter.” Levine noted.

FTC believes that Facebook is using privacy as a ‘pretext to advance other aims.’ Facebook has also stated in response that the group’s research work violates the rules of the platform. However, FTC says Facebook’s explanations were inaccurate and misleading.

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Facebook says NYU researchers violated the platform’s privacy laws

In 2019, Facebook and the FTC agreed on some privacy issues. The deal cost Facebook about $ 5 billion. However, the FTC may now believe that Facebook is violating the agreement. As per Levine’s statement, “the FTC is committed to protecting the privacy of people, and efforts to shield targeted advertising practices from scrutiny run counter to that mission.” Also, obstructing NYU researchers from Facebook has met with the broader academic community response.

“The work our team does to make data about disinformation on Facebook transparent is vital to a healthy internet and a healthy democracy. Facebook is silencing us because our work often calls attention to problems on its platform.” the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University noted in its statement. “Worst of all, Facebook is using user privacy, a core belief that we have always put first in our work, as a pretext for doing this. If this episode demonstrates anything it’s that Facebook should not have veto power over who is allowed to study them.”

Prohibiting researchers raises concerns about Facebook monopoly power

Accusing Facebook of violating privacy and monopoly is not a new issue. The company faces such allegations almost every year, and by saying “violator,” it easily avoids answering further.

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In the recent case, New York University researchers investigated the demographic and target audience of political ads by advertisers. The research group used a browser extension to collect data. Likewise, Facebook responded by saying that the extension collected information from users who had not installed it and had not even agreed to participate in the research.