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Facebook demands NYU Ad Observatory stop collecting data on site’s political ads, says WSJ

Facebook said an effort by NYU to track who is shown what political ads violates Facebook's rules against bulk data collection.
Written by Tiernan Ray, Senior Contributing Writer

Facebook has sent a letter to academics at New York University demanding that they stop collecting data about the political ads that Facebook runs, according to a report this evening by The Wall Street Journal's Jeff Horwitz, citing written remarks by the social network. 

The objection by Facebook pertains to an NYU project called the Ad Observatory, which uses thousands of volunteers who surf the social Web site with a special browser extension to gather data on which ads are shown to what people.

In a letter sent October 16th to the NYU researchers, a Facebook privacy policy official, Allison Hendrix, stated in that "Scraping tools, no matter how well-intentioned, are not a permissible means of collecting information from us," writes Horwitz. The data collection is a violation of Facebook rules that prohibit bulk data collection from its site, Facebook says.

The letter demands data be deleted and warns that persisting could result in "additional enforcement action."

The Ad Observatory began its works last month, Horwitz reports.

Horwitz cites a statement to the Journal from Senator Amy Klobouchar, Democrat of Minnesota, criticizing Facebook for its pressure on NYU. 

"It's unacceptable that in the middle of an election, Facebook is making it harder for Americans to get information about online political ads," Klobouchar told the Journal.

The warning to the NYU scholars comes amidst a rapid series of developments by Facebook and against the company in the past month or so. Facebook on October 7th said it will suspend U.S. political advertisements in the U.S. after the polls close on November 3rd for the U.S. presidential election.  That follows a prior decision in September by the site to refuse new political ads in the week leading up to the election.

Meantime, Senators have requested that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey appear before the Senate's Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism next week for a hearing on digital platforms and election interference. And the head of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, has said he will push for reforms to the Communications Decency Act that governs the responsibility of Facebook and other platforms with respect to content.

That followed the decision last week by both Facebook and Twitter to block circulation of a NY Post story about Joseph Biden's son, Hunter Biden, which prompted an outcry from Republican lawmakers.

And earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee's anti-trust subcommittee issued a scathing report that accused Facebook, Apple, Google and Αmazon of abusing their dominance in their respective markets. The chair of the subcommittee has said that separating Facebook's Instagram service from Facebook would be the right move for regulators.   

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