NEWS26 April 2018

Researchers say Facebook restrictions will hamper studies

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GLOBAL – Academics from a number of universities have penned an open letter to Facebook, saying the social network’s recent move to change third-party data access will damage genuine research.

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Responding to the recent scandal involving alleged misuse of personal data, Facebook announced earlier this month it would change the way in which third-parties could access data on the platform, restricting access to application programming interfaces (APIs).

However, academics have said the move will hamper genuine research on Facebook-owned platforms.

The open letter, published by Queensland University digital media researcher Axel Brun and signed by 29 researchers from academic institutions around the world, said: “While these changes may generate some positive publicity for the company…they are likely to compound the real problem, further diminishing transparency and opportunities for independent oversight.”

The letter said the new API restrictions would effectively “consolidate Facebook’s position as the main analytics and advertising broker” and added, “these changes are as much about strengthening Facebook’s business model of data control as they are about actually improving data privacy for users”.

Platforms should not be allowed to position themselves as “gatekeepers for the research that investigates how their platforms are used”, the letter argued, adding, “instead, we need far more transparent data access models that clearly articulate to platform users who may be accessing their data, and for what purposes”.