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Transparency groups say Facebook no longer lets them monitor political ads

Transparency groups say Facebook will no longer let them monitor political ads

Facebook has moved to block third-party tools designed to collect data on political ads in a bid to stop third-party apps from harvesting user data, riling transparency groups in the process.

A blanket ban has been enforced since third-party plug-in rules were quietly updated earlier this month, snaring non-profit and news organisations in the process who have suffered disruption to their monitoring of political ads.

Groups such as ProPublica, a non-profit newsroom which had compiled a database of Facebook political ads, and WhoTargetsMe, a UK group which scrutinises ads on the site, were among the first to cry foul. Explaining what had happened ProPublica wrote: “Facebook has made minor tweaks before that broke our tool. But this time, Facebook blocked the ability to automatically pull ad targeting information.”

ProPublica has operated a searchable database of political ads along with which particular cohorts of the general population such advertisers are most interested in reaching, made possible by a web browser extension which logged the ads seen by thousands of volunteers.

In a statement given to ProPublica Facebook spokesperson, Beth Gautier said: “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.”

The latest clampdown follows the rollout of an official disclaimer on all UK Facebook political ads and the appointment of Nick Clegg, who yesterday pledged to crack down on fake news and political ads.