Wednesday, October 20, 2021

NYU researchers hit back after FB bans them over user data scraping

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San Francisco, Aug 4 (IANS) Facebook has banned personal accounts and platform access associated with researchers from New York University (NYU) for allegedly violating its term of service by scraping user data without permission. The academics, however, have hit back at the platform, saying Facebook is silencing them.

The researchers were part of NYU’s Ad Observatory Project who researched ad transparency and the spread of misinformation on the social network.

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“We disabled the accounts, apps, Pages and platform access associated with NYU’s Ad Observatory Project and its operators after our repeated attempts to bring their research into compliance with our Terms,” Facebook said in a statement late on Tuesday.

“NYU’s Ad Observatory project studied political ads using unauthorised means to access and collect data from Facebook, in violation of our Terms of Service. We took these actions to stop unauthorised scraping and protect people’s privacy in line with our privacy programme under the FTC Order,” the company added.

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Laura Edelson, a PhD Candidate from the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, tweeted that by suspending our accounts, “Facebook has effectively ended all this work”.

“Facebook has also effectively cut off access to more than two dozen other researchers and journalists who get access to Facebook data through our project, including our work measuring vaccine misinformation with the Virality Project and many other partners who rely on our data,” Edelson said in a series of tweets.

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According to Facebook, the researchers gathered data by creating a browser extension that was programmed to evade its detection systems and scrape data such as usernames, ads, links to user profiles and “Why am I seeing this ad?” information, some of which is not publicly-viewable on Facebook.

“The extension also collected data about Facebook users who did not install it or consent to the collection. The researchers had previously archived this information in a now offline, publicly-available database,” the social network argued.

Facebook said that it made it clear in a series of posts earlier this year that it takes unauthorised data scraping seriously.

“While the Ad Observatory project may be well-intentioned, the ongoing and continued violations of protections against scraping cannot be ignored and should be remediated,” the company said.



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