Facebook continues to attract heat over its lack of transparency regarding political ads on the platform. Mozilla has just joined the activist groups criticizing the social network, officially lodging a complaint with the European Commission.
Mozilla intended to launch a Firefox Election package for the EU's upcoming parliamentary elections, including an add-on that would identify ads and inform users about their targeting strategy. However, Facebook's recent updates block such an add-on from functioning, a move that Mozilla says creates a "lack of transparency" and fails to meets the standards set by the EU's Code of Practice on Disinformation.
Facebook itself is slated to release a political ad transparency tool ahead of the EU elections, but of course, it's easy to spot the conflict of interest there, especially for a company with a history of covering up its relationships with political operators. In the letter, Mozilla COO Denelle Dixon, stated: "Transparency cannot just be on the terms with which the world's largest, most powerful tech companies are most comfortable".
So far Mozilla's attempts to reach an agreement with Facebook have failed, so now the company has escalated the issue to the Commission in the hopes that that it might pressure the social network into more transparency. But Facebook isn't likely to cave on the issue. The social network has defended its approach to browser plugins a "routine update" intended to thwart spyware hidden in plugins such as dodgy ad blockers that would feed data to "bad actors."
Mozilla isn't the only organization protesting that Facebook makes it too hard to gather information on political ads. ProPublica and WhoTargetsMe have also objected that Facebook is restricting their ability to analyze how propaganda and disinformation is purposely spread on the most popular online social platform in the world. It's not a good look for Facebook, as the company's reputation struggles to recover from Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal and more recently, the Facebook Research app.
As online propaganda through targeted advertising and astroturfed social media campaigns become ever more sophisticated, it's vital that Internet users, both as citizens and consumers, have access to information about how their are being targeted. But Facebook, the effective owner of so much of the digital landscape where this takes place, has always been reluctant to share data on how this works. Its purpose as a for-profit company conflicts with the theoretical social responsibilities of hosting such a large and important platform of communication.
What do you think of Facebook's lack of transparency? Do you trust what you read on the social network?