Facebook restricts the ability to monitor political ads, report says

Tools created by political transparency campaigners aren’t working on Facebook, The Guardian reports.

Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Techhnews

Activists seeking greater transparency for online political ads say they’ve been struggling to monitor ads on Facebook after changes by the company.

Tools created by WhoTargetsMe and ProPublica, groups based in Britain and the US, respectively, have been limited by the social networks’ crackdown on third-party plug-ins, The Guardian reported over the weekend.

The browser extensions have allowed the groups to gather data on political ads, with users’ permission, to reveal advertising methods and figure out why campaigns target certain people.

WhoTargetsMe’s software stopped working in recent weeks, group co-founder Sam Jeffers told The Guardian, and Facebook has allegedly made fixing the issue more challenging than in the past.

Facebook said the change came as a result of its limiting third-party plug-ins from accessing unauthorized data from the social network, even though WhoTargetsMe gets permission from its users.

“We regularly improve the ways we prevent unauthorized access by third parties like web browser plugins to keep people’s information safe. This was a routine update and applied to ad blocking and ad scraping plugins, which can expose people’s information to bad actors in ways they did not expect,” Facebook spokesperson Beth Gautier said Monday in an emailed statement to Techhnews.

Last summer, Facebook created its own publicly viewable election ad database for the US and Brazil, showing all of a given advertiser’s previous ads, the amount spent and the demographics the ads targeted. The company expanded the database to the UK in October, and it announced plans Monday to bring the service to the rest of the EU in late March, before the European parliamentary elections

However, WhoTargetsMe’s Jeffers told the Guardian that this service is “inadequate” because it fails to offer meaningful data about why users are targeted or who’s behind the advertising.

Neither WhoTargetsMe nor ProPublica immediately responded to requests for comment.

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