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Facebook Seeks Takedown of Tool to Study Political Ad Targeting

October 26, 2020

Facebook is demanding that New York University researchers cease collecting data on which users are being microtargeted by political ads, the Associated Press reported. The social media company sent NYU researchers an Oct. 16 letter demanding they take down and delete data collected from a browser plug-in downloaded by 6,500 volunteers; the plug-in allows researchers to see which ads are seen by which volunteer.

Facebook says the tool violates the company’s terms of service prohibiting automated bulk data collection from its site, and it has threatened “additional enforcement action” if the tool is not taken down by Nov. 30.

One of the NYU researchers, Damon McCoy, said the tool allows researchers to study how some companies use Facebook data to profile users “and send them misinformation about candidates and policies that are designed to influence or even suppress their vote.”

Ramya Krishnan, a lawyer with Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute representing the NYU researchers, described Facebook’s actions as “alarming.”

“The public has a right to know what political ads are being run and how they are being targeted. Facebook shouldn’t be allowed to be the gatekeeper to information necessary to safeguard our democracy,” she said.

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