The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday criticized Facebook for making “misleading claims” to explain why it had disabled the accounts of researchers studying political advertisements on the social media platform.
Facebook said Tuesday it had shut down the personal accounts and access of New York University researchers over concerns about other users’ privacy.
Facebook had initially said the decision was made because the social media giant had to fulfill a consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission.
But Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne later told Wired that the consent decree was not a reason to disable the investigators’ accounts. Instead, the decree required the creation of rules for a privacy program, which he said the researchers had violated.
Laura Edelson, one of the researchers, denied any wrongdoing, Wired said.
The FTC posted a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying it was “inaccurate” that the company’s actions were required under the 2019 consent decree.
“While I appreciate that Facebook has now corrected the record, I am disappointed with how your company has behaved in this matter,” wrote Sam Levine, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
“The FTC has received no notice that Facebook would publicly invoke our consent decree to justify ending academic research earlier this week.”
Facebook paid a record $5 billion (approximately Rs. 37,100 crores) fine to resolve the FTC investigation into its privacy practices and improve user data security.
“While our role is not to resolve individual disputes between Facebook and third parties, we hope the company does not rely on privacy — let alone the FTC consent order — as a pretext to achieve other goals,” he wrote.
Separately, in December, the FTC sued Facebook for alleged antitrust violations. That complaint was dismissed and the agency has an August 19 deadline to resubmit it.
© Thomson Reuters 2021