Last month, Facebook caused a mini-controversy when it was reported that the social media giant had shut down NYU research into the company’s political ad targeting practices. However, a new column published in The Guardian this week took a closer look at the clash, and found that Facebook may have actually had a good reason to halt the academic study.
According to experts, the main problem was that the extension created by the NYU Ad Observatory could not only view users’ public posts, but also any content they accessed while logged in. Crucially, this tool could also view information from users’ friends who did not agree to interact with it.
“The Ad Observatory might argue that its extension is installed by people willingly, who trust the group’s promises about not collecting personal information,” technology and media analyst Ben Thompson wrote. “Those people’s friends did not agree to the deal, but the Ad Observer plugin has access to their information all the same.”
For its part, NYU promised not to collect more data than its stated mission of researching political ads. However, many apps have made the same pledge before and broken it — including during the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal. So while Facebook may have initially been criticized for cracking down on the project, the company may have made the right move to protect users’ privacy.
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