Facebook won't let Firefox thwart political manipulation, Mozilla complains to EU

But hampering Mozilla's ad analysis tool is just part of protecting Facebook users from bad actors, Facebook responds.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
Expertise Processors | Semiconductors | Web browsers | Quantum computing | Supercomputers | AI | 3D printing | Drones | Computer science | Physics | Programming | Materials science | USB | UWB | Android | Digital photography | Science Credentials
  • Shankland covered the tech industry for more than 25 years and was a science writer for five years before that. He has deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and more.
Stephen Shankland
2 min read
Mozilla Chief Operations Officer Denelle Dixon

Mozilla Chief Operations Officer Denelle Dixon

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Mozilla has joined the list of organizations displeased with Facebook's new restrictions on outsiders analyzing political ads, lodging a complaint with European regulators that the move blocks its plan to help people understand who's trying to influence them during coming elections.

"Transparency cannot just be on the terms with which the world's largest, most powerful tech companies are most comfortable," said Denelle Dixon, Mozilla's chief operations officer, in a letter Thursday to Mariya Gabriel, the European Commission's leader for digital economy and society. Facebook should open a programming interface immediately that will let any researcher or organization build tools to help people "understand and therefore resist targeted disinformation campaigns."

Mozilla's voice joins those of ProPublica and WhoTargetsMe, which earlier this week made similar objections when Facebook limited their abilities. The complaints come during a tough time for Facebook, which last year was battered by the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal and now is grappling with a controversial Facebook Research app that paid people $20 a month to see how they used phones and the web.

And Facebook's attempt to restore faith after social media manipulation during the 2016 US election isn't over, either: Facebook said Thursday it removed 783 pages that it said Iran used to try to influence elections in other countries.

Facebook said the Mozilla difficulties arose because it's trying to block ways outsiders can get unauthorized access to people's information, including tools that block ads or scrape ads.

But Facebook's move means the social network isn't fulfilling the requirements of the European Code of Practice on Disinformation, an industry effort at self-regulation that went into effect in September, Mozilla's Dixon said.

The simple keyword search available with Facebook's Ad Archive tool "has design limits that prevent more sophisticated research and trend analysis on the political ads," Mozilla said, and doesn't comply with the code.

The result is that Facebook is hobbling Mozilla's tool called Ad Analysis for Facebook for Firefox users who want to find out who's trying to pull their strings during the European Union's parliamentary elections.

Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about Facebook's data mining scandal.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sample of the stories in CNET's newsstand edition.