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Mozilla and The Markup partner to investigate Facebook’s data collection

Non-profit newsroom, The Markup, and browser maker Mozilla have partnered to investigate Facebook’s tracking and data collection practices in a study named ‘Facebook Pixel Hunt’ powered by Mozilla’s Rally platform.

The study is scheduled to run until July 13, 2022, during which time journalists and researchers from the collaborating parties will map Facebook’s pixel tracking network and try to understand the information it collects on websites across the web.

Mozilla’s Rally, launched in June 2021, allows people to contribute their data for research. Mozilla and The Markup will be using this data to determine how Facebook’s Pixel tracking infrastructure functions across the web. The study will delve into the data used for ad-targeting, content recommendations, and spreading misinformation.

This isn’t the first time researchers or journalists are researching Facebook’s tracking and data collection practices. In the past, Julia Angwin, the current editor-in-chief of The Markup, reported Facebook’s ad targeting practices for ProPublica. Facebook has also been working behind the scenes to silence those demanding or working towards transparency over how they use data.

In January 2019, Facebook blocked several ad transparency tools, including those from ProPublica, Mozilla and Who Targets Me. September 2021 saw Facebook changing its news feed code to prevent data watchdogs, including NYU’s Ad Observatory and The Markup, from monitoring the platform. And that’s not it, Facebook went as far as deactivating NYU’s researchers’ accounts.

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Meta’s Facebook has been facing the heat for several issues, and its intrusive data collection and tracking practices top that list.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Mozilla, which shares our commitment to a more transparent and trusted internet. Rally is an open invitation for the public to contribute to important research into some of today’s most pressing issues, and we’re excited to investigate wherever it leads,” said Julia Angwin, editor-in-chief and found, The Markup.

Mozilla and The Markup’s joint research will collect the following data from Rally:

  • Data sent to Facebook Pixels while browsing.
  • Full URLs, including metadata like how far down the webpage a person scrolled, for how long a media was played or the page was explored.
  • Time spent browing pages
  • Presence of Facebook login cookies in the browser.
  • Study survey completed by the people.

According to the Facebook Pixel Hunt page, the study won’t be sharing granular measurements data with third parties. All the data aggregation and analysis will be done in Mozilla’s secure analysis environment, and all the raw data will be deleted after the analysis is completed. Moreover, The Markup will only be using aggregated, anonymised data for its reporting.

“This is a rare opportunity to lift the veil over Facebook’s tracking and data collection practices outside of the Facebook platforms. This partnership comes at a time when the consequences of fragmented awareness have never been more stark,” said Ted Han, Product Lead for Rally, Mozilla.

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