Facebook has blocked plugin tools from third-party websites, like ProPublica, Mozilla and Who Targets Me. These plugins let Facebook users see how they are being targeted by advertisers. This month Facebook inserted code that prevented these plugins to automatically pull ad targeting information.
The ad monitoring tools collect data on the adverts a user sees and tells them why the users were targeted. This helps users know about the advertising tactics used by politicians for their benefit.
Facebook’s move was heavily criticized by these companies. “Ten days ago, our software stopped working, and efforts to fix it have proved much harder than before,” said WhoTargetsMe co-founder Sam Jeffers. “Facebook is deliberately obfuscating their code. When we have made small changes, they’ve responded with further updates within hours.”
“This is very concerning, Investigative groups like ProPublica need access to this information in order to track and report on the opaque and frequently deceptive world of online advertising,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who has co-sponsored the Honest Ads Act, which would require transparency on Facebook ads. The Honest Ads Act is expected to be re-introduced in Congress this year and it would require Facebook to publish “a description of the audience targeted by the advertisement.”
ProPublica writes that Facebook has also developed another tool that it says will allow researchers to analyze political ads more easily. That tool, called an API, is in “beta” and restricted to a few participants, including ProPublica, who had to sign a nondisclosure agreement about the data provided.
“We regularly improve the ways we prevent unauthorized access by third parties like web browser plugins to keep people’s information safe,” Facebook spokesperson Beth Gautier said to ProPublica “This was a routine update and applied to ad blocking and ad scraping plugins, which can expose people’s information to bad actors in ways they did not expect.” Facebook made it clear to ProPublica in a statement that the change was meant to simply enforce its terms of service.
Twitterati has also condemned Facebook’s move calling it ‘hostile for journalists’.
Yesterday, @ProPublica reported that Facebook has modified its site in a way that prevents journalists from studying political ads on the platform.
It’s an important story that shows Facebook’s hostility to journalism about Facebook.
Let me explain. /1https://t.co/pNkSLjXhR8
— Alex Abdo (@AlexanderAbdo) January 29, 2019
Facebook is actively trying to make sure journalists can’t investigate it https://t.co/loyDs3MU7V
— Mike Murphy (@mcwm) January 28, 2019
— Avi Asher-Schapiro (@AASchapiro) January 29, 2019
A number of organizations, including @ProPublica, have developed tools to let the public see exactly how Facebook users are being targeted by political and commercial advertisers. Now, Facebook has quietly made changes to its site that block those effortshttps://t.co/moGfcRaYzE
— Alfons López Tena #FBPE (@alfonslopeztena) January 29, 2019