FTC Takes Aim at Facebook Following NYU Researcher Ban

Earlier this week, Breitbart News reported that Facebook banned the personal accounts of several researchers from the NYU Ad Observatory. They were investigating the spread of misinformation and ad transparency on the platform. Facebook claims that the academics violated the site’s terms of service by scraping user data without permission; the academics allege that Facebook is simply silencing them for exposing issues with Facebook’s platform.

Mark Zuckerberg throwing spears

In May, the researchers published a blog post explaining the aim of their studies — to uncover exactly who is funding political ads and how they are being targeted towards people online. As Facebook does not fact-check political ads, this research could have a significant effect on the platform. Given that a considerable amount of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertising, this could cause major issues for the company.

Now, the FTC is taking issue with Facebook’s blacklisting of the researcher’s accounts. Protocol reports that in a recent letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the FTC’s acting director for the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Samuel Levine, said that Facebook should not “use privacy” as “a pretext to advance other aims.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives for the 8th annual Breakthrough Prize awards ceremony at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California on November 3, 2019. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Levine stated: “I write concerning Facebook’s recent insinuation that its actions against an academic research project conducted by [New York University’s] Ad Observatory were required by the company’s consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. As the company has since acknowledged, this is inaccurate.”

Facebook claimed in a blog post that it removed the researchers from its platform “to stop unauthorized scraping and protect people’s privacy in line with our privacy program under the FTC order.” However, Facebook has since admitted that the tool used by the NYU Ad Observatory did not explicitly violate the consent decree.

“While I appreciate that Facebook has now corrected the record, I am disappointed by how your company has conducted itself in this matter,” Levine wrote to Zuckerberg. Levine did not state whether Facebook made the wrong call on the removal of the researchers but did criticize the company for failing to forewarn the FTC about the issue.

“The FTC received no notice that Facebook would be publicly invoking our consent decree to justify terminating academic research earlier this week,” Levine wrote. “Had you honored your commitment to contact us in advance, we would have pointed out that the consent decree does not bar Facebook from creating exceptions for good-faith research in the public interest.”

Read more at Protocol here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address lucasnolan@protonmail.com

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