On Monday, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, said that it plans to share more data about political ad targeting on its platform with social scientists and other researchers, as part of what the company calls its Open Research and Transparency project. According to CNN, Meta will provide “detailed targeting information for social issue, electoral or political ads” on the platform to “vetted academic researchers.” Jeff King, Meta’s vice president of business integrity, said in a statement that the information could include the various categories of interest—environmentalism, say, or travel—used to target users. The New York Times reported that, starting in July, the company’s publicly available advertising library will include a summary of this targeting information, including general location (e.g., “people who live in Pennsylvania”). By sharing the data, King said in his statement, Meta hoped “to help people better understand the practices used to reach potential voters on our technologies.”
Monday’s announcement suggests that Meta wants to be transparent about its ad targeting and other data-related practices. Researchers who have dealt with the platform in the past, however, tell a different story. Some say they have spent years trying to get Meta to provide even the smallest amount of useful information for research purposes, but even when the company does so, either the data is incomplete—Meta admitted last year that it provided researchers with faulty data, omitting about 40 percent of its user base—or the restrictions placed on its usage are too onerous. In either case, researchers say, the resulting research is almost useless.