Getting serious about political ad transparency with Ad Analysis for Facebook

UPDATED: February 7, 2019

Last year we released Ad Analysis for Facebook, part of our solution to the lack of transparency around political advertising on the web.

We wanted to provide users with a behind the scenes look at why certain ads and information were being provided to them.

Unfortunately, last month Facebook took action to block our add-on and in turn, block users’ ability to see why they are being targeted.

This move by Facebook is a huge step backward in the effort to provide people with more control over how their online experience impacts the democratic process.

Facebook claimed that security risks motivated these platform changes. But here is the truth –  our add-on went through intensive security review prior to launch, and we took steps to ensure that user data was never collected.

And while we appreciate Facebook’s newfound concern with security and user privacy, we would appreciate even more Facebook offering a meaningful alternative that allows users to continue to access this information.

Users deserve a tool that promotes transparency in political advertising.

That is why we will continue to push Facebook to deliver a tool for users themselves, or allow us to deliver it for them.

Original Post:

Do you know who is trying to influence your vote online? The votes of your friends and neighbors? Would you even know how to find out? Despite all the talk of election security, the tech industry still falls short on political ad transparency. With the U.S. midterm elections mere weeks away, this is a big problem.

We can’t solve this problem alone, but we can help by making it more visible and easier to understand. Today we are announcing the release of our experimental extension, Ad Analysis for Facebook, to give you greater transparency into the online advertisements, including political ads, you see on Facebook.

Big tech companies have acknowledged this problem but haven’t done enough to address it. In May, Facebook released the Ad Archive, a database of political ads that have run on the platform. In August, Facebook announced a private beta release of its Ad Archive API. But these are baby steps at a time when we need more. The Ad Archive doesn’t provide the integrated, transparent experience that users really need, nor provide the kind of data journalists and researchers require for honest oversight. The Ad Archive API is only available to select organizations. Facebook’s tools aren’t very useful today, which means they won’t provide meaningful transparency before the midterm elections.

This is why we’re launching Ad Analysis for Facebook. It shows you why you were targeted, and how your targeting might differ from other users. You may be surprised! Facebook doesn’t just target you based on the information you’ve provided in your profile and posts. Facebook also infers your interests based on your activities, the news you read, and your relationships with others on Facebook.

Beyond giving you insight into how you were targeted, Ad Analysis for Facebook provides a view of the overall landscape to help you see outside your filter bubble. The extension also displays a high-level overview of the top political advertisers based on targeting by state, gender, and age. You can view ads for each of these targeting criteria — the kinds of ads you would never normally see.

Political ad transparency is just one of the many areas we need to improve to strengthen our electoral processes for the digital age. Transparency alone won’t solve misinformation problems or election hacking. But at Mozilla, we believe transparency is the most critical piece. Citizens need accurate information and powerful tools to make informed decisions. We encourage you to use our new Ad Analysis for Facebook experiment, as well as our other tools and resources to help you navigate the US midterm elections. It’s all part of learning more about who is trying to influence your vote.