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Facebook pledges transparency on political ads ahead of EU elections
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Facebook pledges transparency on political ads ahead of EU elections

After calls for increased transparency and accountability from Mozilla and partners in civil society, Facebook announced it would open its Ad Archive API next month. While the details are still limited, this is an important first step to increase transparency of political advertising and help prevent abuse during upcoming elections.

Facebook’s commitment to make the API publicly available could provide researchers, journalists and other organizations with the data necessary to build tools that give people a behind-the-scenes look at how and why political advertisers target them.

It is now important that Facebook follows through on these statements and delivers an open API that gives the public the access it deserves.

The decision by Facebook comes after months of engagement by the Mozilla Corporation through industry working groups and government initiatives and most recently, an advocacy campaign led by the Mozilla Foundation.

This week, the Mozilla Foundation was joined by a coalition of technologists, human rights defenders, academics, journalists demanding Facebook take action and deliver on the commitments made to put users first and deliver increased transparency.

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Facebook has been in hot water for a while over running ads related to politics. / © Africa Studio/Shutterstock

"In the short term, Facebook needs to be vigilant about promoting transparency ahead of and during the EU Parliamentary elections," said Ashley Boyd, Mozilla’s VP of Advocacy. "Their action — or inaction — can affect elections across more than two dozen countries. In the long term, Facebook needs to sincerely assess the role its technology and policies can play in spreading disinformation and eroding privacy."  

And in January, Mozilla penned a letter to the European Commission underscoring the importance of a publicly available API. Without the data, Mozilla and other organizations are unable to deliver products designed to pull back the curtain on political advertisements.

“Industry cannot ignore its potential to either strengthen or undermine the democratic process,” said Alan Davidson Mozilla’s VP of Global Policy, Trust and Security. “Transparency alone won’t solve misinformation problems or election hacking, but it's a critical first step. With real transparency, we can give people more accurate information and powerful tools to make informed decisions in their lives.”

This is not the first time Mozilla has called on the industry to prioritize user transparency and choice. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica news, the Mozilla Foundation rallied tens of thousands of internet users to hold Facebook accountable for its post-scandal promises. And Mozilla Corporation took action with a pause on advertising our products on Facebook and provided users with Facebook Container for Firefox, a product that keeps Facebook from tracking people around the web when they aren’t on the platform.

While the announcement from Facebook indicates a move towards transparency, it is critical the company follows through and delivers not only on this commitment but the other promises also made to European lawmakers and voters.

What do you think? Will Facebook keep its promise on this one?

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