A Mozilla-Led Coalition Is Pushing Facebook for Greater Political Ads Transparency in the EU

The groups seek a functional open Ad Archive API by April 1

The coalition eyes the development of tools to analyze political ads that are served to EU users artJazz/iStock

A Mozilla-led coalition of groups in Europe in fields including technology, human rights, academics and journalism sent a letter to Facebook urging the social network to release an application-programming interface that would allow for the study and analysis of political ads served by Facebook to people in the European Union.

The letter made the following requests of Facebook, seeking implementation by April 1:

  • The rollout of a functional, open Ad Archive API—which the company announced its intentions to do last August—enabling advanced research and the development of tools to analyze political ads that are served to EU users.
  • The extension of already existing policies regarding political ads—such as distinguishing them from other content and providing information on who paid for specific ads and the amount they spent on Facebook—to all EU countries.
  • “Cease harassment of good-faith researchers” building tools to provide greater transparency into advertising on Facebook’s platform.

Facebook director of product management Rob Leathern said, “We’re committed to a new level of transparency to ads on Facebook, and we encourage others to do the same. That’s why we’re planning to open the Ad API in late March—at the same time as our already announced program to label political ads ahead of the European Parliament election—so that people on and off Facebook can analyze political ads and see them archived in a library for up to seven years. This work is important and part of our broader efforts to protect elections this year. We’re also bringing transparency tools for political ads to India, Israel, Ukraine and globally in June.

The letter was signed by:

  • Access Now
  • AlgorithmWatch
  • All Out
  • Alto Data Analytics
  • Article 19
  • Aufstehn
  • Bits of Freedom
  • Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
  • Campax
  • Center for Democracy and Technology
  • CIPPIC (Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic)
  • Civil Liberties Union for Europe
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • Declic
  • Doteveryone
  • Estonian Human Rights Center
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • GONG Croatia
  • Greenpeace
  • Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (CILD)
  • Mobilisation Lab
  • Open Data Institute
  • Open Knowledge International
  • OpenMedia
  • Providus
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • Skiftet
  • SumOfUs
  • Transparent Referendum Initiative
  • Uplift
  • Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
  • WhoTargetsMe
  • Wikimedia U.K.

The coalition wrote, “In the company’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, (CEO) 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 analyze 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.”

The letter continued, “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.”

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.