A Mozilla-led coalition of “technologists, human rights defenders, academics, journalists and Facebook users,” recently penned an open letter to Facebook, demanding that the company provide open access to the company’s Political Ads API. The group hopes that access to this information will allow researchers and developers to provide tools that analyze political ads served on the platform.
The letter provided Facebook with not only a deadline (April 1st), but a bit of an ultimatum, stating that “...we will be exploring ways to hold Facebook accountable if that action isn’t sufficient.” The deadline was provided to allow developers enough time to work with the data ahead of upcoming elections in the EU.
Facebook had previously committed to increased transparency with regard to political ads, publishing an announcement in January 2019 that outlined plans to require advertisers to confirm their identity and location before they can run ads. This information would then be made publically available in a searchable Ad Library for up to seven years. The post also mentioned additional tools for political transparency in the EU prior to the upcoming elections, so it is not clear if Mozilla’s recent admonishment had any real effect on Facebook’s plans.
Facebook’s Director of Product, Rob Leathern, responded to the letter in a tweet:
It’s why we’re opening the Ad API in late March - same time as our already-announced program to label political ads before the European Parliament election - so people on & off Facebook can analyze political ads & see them in a library for 7 years (2/3)
— Rob Leathern (@robleathern) February 11, 2019
We will have to wait to see if Facebook follows through with these commitments. Details are still limited at this point, and it is very possible that Facebook may place serious restrictions on access to this data.