Facebook has apologized to disinformation researchers for providing them with erroneous and incomplete data for their work examining how users interact with posts and links on its platform, the New York Times reported. Contrary to what the company told researchers, the data Facebook provided apparently only included information for about half of its users in the United States, not all.
The Times reported that members of Facebook’s open research and transparency team called the researchers on Friday to apologize for the error. Some of the researchers questioned whether the error was intentional to sabotage the research, or simply a case of negligence.
The data breach was first discovered by a researcher at the Italian University of Urbino, who compared a report published by Facebook in August to the data it provided only to researchers. The data sets did not match, according to the Times.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The edge Saturday, but a spokesperson told the Times that the error was the result of a technical error and that the company “proactively informed the affected partners and is working quickly to resolve” the problem.
The August 18 report that the Urbino University researcher used in his comparison has been published for the sake of “transparency,” showing the most viewed content in Facebook’s public news feed between April and June of this year, his second trimester. However, the Times discovered that Facebook had put aside a report about his first quarter which has painted the company in a much less flattering light. Facebook eventually released the shelved report.
Also in August, Facebook banned academic researchers from New York University’s Ad Observatory project from its platform, after the group’s Ad Observer browser plug-in highlighted problems. His research found Facebook had not disclosed who paid for some political advertising on their site.