In the latest attempt to cast light on Facebook’s tracking and data collection practices, browser maker Mozilla has teamed up with non-profit The Markup.
The pair are recruiting for the Facebook Pixel Hunt study, asking users to download Rally – Mozilla’s privacy-first data-sharing platform, launched last year – and share their own browsing behavior.
“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,” says Ted Han, Rally product lead at Mozilla.
“This is a rare opportunity to lift the veil over Facebook’s tracking and data collection practices outside of the Facebook platforms.”
The project aims to build on a previous collaboration with Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy about news and misinformation about politics and COVID-19 across online services, as well as another ongoing study with the Stanford University Graduate School of Business on news consumption and the impact of ads.
“The internet and the world cannot wait on platforms to do the right thing, especially when so much depends on it,” comments Han.
However, previous projects with similar aims have foundered. Last summer, for example, Facebook banned the accounts of New York University (NYU) researchers studying the microtargeting of political ads on users through a project called Ad Observer, in a move condemned by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The company shut down also CrowdTangle, the social media monitoring tool that provided access to trending topics, public accounts and communities and viral posts on Facebook, Instagram and Reddit, and blocked ProPublica’s Ad Transparency tools.
It also apparently modified its website code to prevent the automated data collection of user-volunteered news feed posts, significantly hampering the work of researchers such as The Markup’s Citizen Browser project.
It remains to be seen whether the Pixel Hunt project will fare any better.