Facebook opens political ad data vaults to researchers

Social network builds FORT to protect against onslaught of regulation, investigation


Meta's ad transparency tools will soon reveal another treasure trove of data: advertiser targeting choices for political, election-related, and social issue spots.

Meta said it plans to add the targeting data into its Facebook Open Research and Transparency (FORT) environment for academic researchers at the end of May.

The move comes a day after Meta's reputation as a bad data custodian resurfaced with news of a lawsuit filed in Washington DC against CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Yesterday's filing alleges Zuckerberg built a company culture of mishandling data, leading directly to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The suit seeks to hold Zuckerberg responsible for the incident, which saw millions of users' data harvested and used to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

Jeff King, Meta's VP of business integrity, said that FORT would allow researchers to look at detailed targeting information for social issue, electoral and political ads.

"This data will be provided for each individual ad and will include information like the interest categories chosen by advertisers," King said. Prior to this announcement, data for social, electoral, and political ads in the run-up to the 2020 election was available as part of a pilot program. This new release will expand the pilot and add data from all ads in those categories run globally since 2020, King said.

The non-academic public has to wait until July to get their hands on that data in Facebook's Ad Library, and when released it will be in a summarized form. Included in the update will be data on total number of social, electoral, and political ads ran on a page using particular targeting data, percentage spent on the different issues, and whether the page uses a custom or lookalike audience.

King said that Meta hopes the release will "help people better understand the practices used to reach potential voters on our technologies," and emphasized yet again that Meta is "committed to providing meaningful transparency, while also protecting people's privacy." 

In addition to Zuckerberg's personal legal woes, Meta is also facing legal challenges in the US and abroad related to its advertising practices. The European Union's Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA) both take aim at big tech companies, of which Meta is an archetypal example. 

The DMA focuses on preventing companies from abusing market power, while the DSA targets advertising directly. The DSA places particularly strict requirements on advertising transparency, which Meta's announcement today addresses. US legislators have also recently introduced a bill that would crack down on large advertisers like Facebook and Google.

Big tech has been under the spotlight for how it handles advertising. Meta, in particular, was caught last year kicking transparency researchers from New York University's Ad Observatory Project off its platforms – not the first time it's done something similar.

It is hopeful to expect all of the regulation and investigation will keep Meta from these practices. For instance, less than a month ago, a study found that a Meta tracking script was harvesting data from students filing for federal aid via the US Department of Education's StudentAid.gov website, apparently a violation of the site's privacy policy. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Meta: We need 5x more GPUs to combat TikTok, stat
    And 30% fewer new engineers this year

    Comment Facebook parent Meta has reportedly said it needs to increase its fleet of datacenter GPUs fivefold to help it compete against short-form video app and perennial security concern TikTok.

    The oft-controversial tech giant needs these hardware accelerators in its servers by the end of the year to power its so-called discovery engine that will become the center of future social media efforts, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters that was written by Meta Chief Product Officer Chris Cox.

    Separately, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Meta staff on Thursday in a weekly Q&A the biz had planned to hire 10,000 engineers this year, and this has now been cut to between 6,000 and 7,000 in the shadow of an economic downturn. He also said some open positions would be removed, and pressure will be placed on the performance of those staying at the corporation.

    Continue reading
  • Meta agrees to tweak ad system after US govt brands it discriminatory
    And pay the tiniest of fines, too

    Facebook parent Meta has settled a complaint brought by the US government, which alleged the internet giant's machine-learning algorithms broke the law by blocking certain users from seeing online real-estate adverts based on their nationality, race, religion, sex, and marital status.

    Specifically, Meta violated America's Fair Housing Act, which protects people looking to buy or rent properties from discrimination, it was claimed; it is illegal for homeowners to refuse to sell or rent their houses or advertise homes to specific demographics, and to evict tenants based on their demographics.

    This week, prosecutors sued Meta in New York City, alleging the mega-corp's algorithms discriminated against users on Facebook by unfairly targeting people with housing ads based on their "race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, and national origin."

    Continue reading
  • America edges closer to a federal data privacy law, not that anyone can agree on it
    What do we want? Safeguards on information! How do we want it? Er, someone help!

    American lawmakers held a hearing on Tuesday to discuss a proposed federal information privacy bill that many want yet few believe will be approved in its current form.

    The hearing, dubbed "Protecting America's Consumers: Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen Data Privacy and Security," was overseen by the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

    Therein, legislators and various concerned parties opined on the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA) [PDF], proposed by Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022