PROPUBLICA: Facebook Moves to Block Ad Transparency Tools — Including Ours. “Our tool had let the public see exactly how users were being targeted by advertisers. The social media giant urged us to shut it down last year.”
ProPublica, Mozilla and Who Targets Me have all noticed their tools stopped working this month after Facebook inserted code in its website that blocks them.
“This is very concerning,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who has co-sponsored the Honest Ads Act, which would require transparency on Facebook ads. “Investigative groups like ProPublica need access to this information in order to track and report on the opaque and frequently deceptive world of online advertising.”
For the past year and a half, ProPublica has been building a searchable database of political ads and the segments of the population advertisers are paying to reach. We did this by enlisting thousands of volunteers who installed a web browser extension. The tool shared the ads users see as well as Facebook’s details on why the users were targeted.
In a statement to ProPublica, Facebook said the change was meant to simply enforce its terms of service. (The Guardian also published a story Sunday flagging the change.)
“We regularly improve the ways we prevent unauthorized access by third parties like web browser plugins to keep people’s information safe,” Facebook spokesperson Beth Gautier said. “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 has made minor tweaks before that broke our tool. But this time, Facebook blocked the ability to automatically pull ad targeting information.
For a service built on sharing, Facebook certainly doesn’t like to do much of that itself.