Facebook newsfeed changes break watchdog programmes

Social media giant Facebook has started rolling out a news feed update that is hampering observation of the platform by watchdogs, according to a report from The Markup.

The Markup said it discovered changes in Facebook’s website code that disrupts automated data collection of posts — the methodology used by auditors of the platform.

According to their findings, Facebook has been attaching “junk code to HTML features meant to improve accessibility for visually impaired users.”

The changes also influence adblocking services on the social media platform and The Markup Citizen Browser’s and New York University Ad Observer’s ability to collect data from the news feed.

Facebook’s changes “had the effect of breaking Ad Observer”. However, they were able to find a workaround, according to Laura Edelson, lead researcher at NYU’s Cybersecurity for Democracy — which controls Ad Observer.

Lindy Wagner, communications manager at Facebook, said that the company was looking into the claims in a statement.

“We constantly make code changes across our services, but we did not make any code changes to block these research projects,” she told The Markup.

“Our accessibility features largely appear to be working as normal, however, we are investigating the claimed disruptions.”

This comes after the company disabled the personal accounts of NYU researchers participating in Ad Observers operations last month, saying the accounts had violated Facebook’s privacy policy.

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Facebook newsfeed changes break watchdog programmes