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Mozilla partners with The Markup to launch Rally study into Facebook’s tracking and data collection practices

Browser maker Mozilla today announced a partnership with The Markup, the non-profit newsroom that investigates how technology is reshaping society, on a research project to provide insights into and data about a space that’s opaque to policymakers, researchers and users themselves. By joining Mozilla and The Markup’s “Facebook Pixel Hunt” in Firefox, people can help Rally and The Markup unravel how Facebook’s tracking infrastructure massively collects data about people online – data that is used to target ads, tailor content recommendations and spread misinformation – all by simply browsing the web.

The Markup is the newest partner for Rally, the privacy-first data-sharing platform that was created by Mozilla in 2021 to take back control from platforms that are not transparent about how they use people’s data and make it very difficult for independent outside research to take place. Rally is a novel way for people to help answer systemic questions by contributing their own browsing behavior data, putting it to work as part of a collective effort to solve societal problems that start online and that we have not been able to investigate this way before. 

Using tools provided by Rally, the two organizations will research how Facebook tracks people across the web through its Facebook pixel-powered ad network and shine a light on what Facebook knows about their online life. By opting into “The Facebook Pixel Hunt” study, Rally gives Firefox users the power to help answer questions like: What kind of data does the Facebook pixel collect? Which sites share this data? What can this data reveal about people? What other ways does Facebook track people? How widespread is Facebook’s tracking network?

Mozilla is excited to partner with The Markup. Cited by legislators to combat discriminatory tenant screening and mortgage lending, The Markup’s journalism has distinguished itself with its direct impact on people’s lives. The partnership of the two organizations brings together Rally’s technical skill and The Markup’s data-driven investigative journalism, exposing the problems of informational asymmetry on the internet and shedding light on systems of online surveillance used by companies like Facebook.

“A tool like Rally can bring the full force of communities of people joining together to provide insights into one of the most opaque parts of the internet that have such a dramatic impact on our individual lives and on society. This is a rare opportunity to lift the veil over Facebook’s tracking and data collection practices outside of the Facebook platforms.”

Ted Han, Rally Product Lead at Mozilla

Facebook has repeatedly slowed down efforts to bring transparency and to help independent third parties research and understand the mechanisms at play on its platforms: it shut down CrowdTangle, blocked ProPublica’s Ad Transparency tools, modified code to prevent The Markup’s Citizen Browser from collecting user-volunteered data and canceled NYU’s AdObserver researchers’ accounts

“The Internet and the world cannot wait on platforms to do the right thing, especially when so much depends on it. This partnership seeks to lead the way in providing new and critical ways of illuminating the reality of the internet, led by the people who make it. This partnership comes at a time when the consequences of fragmented awareness have never been more stark.”

Ted Han, Rally Product Lead at Mozilla

“We’re thrilled to partner with Mozilla, which shares our commitment to a more transparent and trusted internet. Rally is an open invitation for the public to contribute to important research into some of today’s most pressing issues, and we’re excited to investigate wherever it leads.”

Julia Angwin, editor-in-chief and founder of The Markup

The Markup will be Rally’s first non-academic partner. Rally launched as a Firefox extension in 2021. It has supported a study in collaboration with Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy about news and misinformation about politics and COVID-19 across online services, and another ongoing study with the Stanford University Graduate School of Business on news consumption and the impact of ads.

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