Political actors use disinformation campaigns that prey on our emotions and values to manipulate our behaviour. We have a right to know who is paying to influence our vote, and Facebook is responsible for making sure that happens on their platform. They have made many promises to European lawmakers and users to make political ads more transparent, but so far we’ve seen little action. So we decided to pen an open letter telling them to implement what they've promised in enough time to protect users during the European elections.
UPDATE 13 February: In response to our campaign, Facebook announced that it would open up its Ad Archive API next month. Read Mozilla's statement about the response here.
We are writing you today as a group of technologists, human rights defenders, academics, journalists and Facebook users who are deeply concerned about the validity of Facebook’s promises to protect European users from targeted disinformation campaigns during the European Parliamentary elections. You have promised European lawmakers and users that you will increase the transparency of political advertising on the platform to prevent abuse during the elections. But in the very same breath, you took measures to block access to transparency tools that let your users see how they are being targeted.
In the company’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Mark Zuckerberg wrote that the most important principles around data are transparency, choice and control. By restricting access to advertising transparency tools available to Facebook users, you are undermining transparency, eliminating the choice of your users to install tools that help them analyse political ads, and wielding control over good faith researchers who try to review data on the platform. Your alternative to these third party tools provides simple keyword search functionality and does not provide the level of data access necessary for meaningful transparency.
Actions speak louder than words. That’s why you must take action to meaningfully deliver on the commitments made to the EU institutions notably the increased transparency that you’ve promised. Promises and press statements aren’t enough; instead, we need to see real action over the coming months, and we will be exploring ways to hold Facebook accountable if that action isn’t sufficient.
Specifically, we ask that you implement the following measures by 1 April 2019 to give developers sufficient lead time to create transparency tools in advance of the elections:
- Roll out a functional, open Ad Archive API that enables advanced research and development of tools that analyse political ads served to Facebook users in the EU.
- Ensure that all political advertisements are clearly distinguished from other content and are accompanied by key targeting criteria such as sponsor identity and amount spent on the platform in all EU countries.
- Cease harassment of good faith researchers who are building tools to provide greater transparency into the advertising on your platform.
We believe that Facebook and other platforms can be positive forces that enable democracy, but this vision can only be realized through true transparency and trust. Transparency cannot just be on the terms with which the world’s largest, most powerful tech companies are most comfortable.
We look forward to the swift and complete implementation of these transparency measures that you have promised to your users.
Alto Data Analytics
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Bits of Freedom
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
BUND – Friends of the Earth Germany
Center for Democracy and Technology
Certified Content Coalition
Civil Liberties Union for Europe
Civil Rights Defenders
Estonian Human Rights Center
Free Press Unlimited
Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (CILD)
Open Data Institute
Open Knowledge International
Reporters Without Borders
The Fourth Group
Transparent Referendum Initiative
Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights