In a statement the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said, Facebook Inc made “misleading claims” to explain why it had disabled the accounts of researchers studying political ads on its social media platform.
Earlier this week on Tuesday, Facebook cut off the personal accounts and access of the New York University researchers citing users’ privacy concerns.
Initially, Facebook had said its decision was based on the need to live up to a consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission. However, Facebook’s spokesman Joe Osborne told Wired that the consent decree was not a reason to disable the researchers’ accounts and that the decree required the creation of rules for a privacy program, which the researchers had violated.
Laura Edelson, a researcher studying political ads on FB, denied any wrongdoing.
In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the FTC said it was not “inaccurate” for FB to cite its 2019 consent decree as a reason for disabling the accounts of the researchers.
“While I appreciate that Facebook has now corrected the record, I am disappointed by how your company has conducted itself in this matter,” wrote Sam Levine, the FTC’s acting director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC received no notice that Facebook would be publicly invoking our consent decree to justify terminating academic research earlier this week.”
Incidentally, Facebook had paid a record $5 billion fine to settle a FTC probe into its privacy practices and had promised to boost safeguards on user data.
“While it is not our role to resolve individual disputes between Facebook and third parties, we hope that the company is not invoking privacy – much less the FTC consent order – as a pretext to advance other aims,” wrote Levine.