Over at Facebook, it’s been a year of controversy and climbing profits.
In an effort to address critics who say Facebook’s advertising business — the money maker that fuels the world’s biggest social network — is used to unfairly sway elections and amplify misinformation, the Silicon Valley company launched an expanded Ad Library last month said to offer transparency where previously much was shrouded in a fog of war.
The company is badly coming up short on that effort, according to a sharply critical blog post from the tech nonprofit Mozilla.
“The fact is, the API doesn’t provide necessary data,” the blog read. “And it is designed in ways that hinders the important work of researchers, who inform the public and policymakers about the nature and consequences of misinformation.”
The European Commission had echoes of those same criticisms last week adding that “further technical improvements” are necessary.
Earlier this year, Facebook director of product Rob Leathern said the company is “committed to a new level of transparency for ads” in response to a Mozilla-led effort calling on the company to make good on its promise to combat disinformation in the lead up to European elections.
On the same day as Mozilla’s critique was published, Facebook announced new research projects involving 60 academics from around the globe investigating the platform’s impact on democracy. Research topics include the impact of sharing fake news and the spread of disinformation during the German election.
That initiative is meant to “deepen public understanding of the role social media has on elections and democracy and help Facebook and other companies improve their products and practices,” according to a blog post by Facebook’s Elliot Schrage and Chaya Nayak.
The perception of Facebook’s transparency efforts is coloured by how the company’s history including one of its major efforts: The ad library that Mozilla calls a “failing” effort.
At the top of Mozilla’s list of problems is that Facebook’s database does not provide all ad data and so “Facebook makes it impossible to get a complete picture of the ads running on their platform (which is exactly the opposite of what they claim to be doing.”
There is also no information offered on targeting criteria nor engagement, meaning no researcher can see who the ads are aimed and at whether they were successful.
Few of the complaints are new:
Journalists complained about these issues ahead of the 2018 US midterms and were told the API was still a work in progress. Disappointing that they haven't been resolved yet. https://t.co/DX64nSOqkt
— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) April 29, 2019
Last month, Mozilla worked with dozens of experts to come up with five guidelines for advertising archives.
“Facebook’s tool meets only two of experts’ five minimum standards,” Mozilla’s post reads. “That’s a failing grade.”