While they don't directly impact Facebook’s bottom line, the company’s ties to academia add an air of respectability to its vast mobile data-grabbing practices.
Threatening those ties, the Social Science Research Council is accusing Facebook of jeopardizing an existing data-sharing initiative.
First announced by Facebook in 2018, the effort was intended to encourage independent research into the role of social media in elections and democratic systems more broadly.
Among other benefactors, the effort has been funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Now, however, the council’s backers are saying that technical difficulties associated with making data available to independent scholars have bogged down research efforts.
They say that 83 independent scholars whose proposals were selected for funding have been given access only to a portion of what they were told they could expect.
“This has made it difficult or, in some cases, impossible for them to complete the approved research,” the funders said in a letter to the SSRC.
The backers are also frustrated by what they see as Facebook’s inability to give a definitive timetable for when the full data set will be made available. The council has given Facebook until September 30 to turn over the promised data.
For its part, Facebook says it remains committed to the project.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica controversy, Facebook has been far more careful about giving third parties access to user data.This summer, for example, the tech titan debuted a market research app that prioritized transparency, data safety and participant compensation.