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Facebook to launch political ads archive before 2019 polls

Facebook’s ads archive allows people to look at the ad content across Facebook and Instagram, the duration for which an ad ran, the estimated number of people who saw it, the locations where it was viewed, among other things.

india Updated: Oct 07, 2018 07:10 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
facebook,ad archives,political ad archives
New Delhi, India - Oct. 6, 2018: Richard Allan, VP Policy Solutions, Facebook during the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit at Taj Palace in New Delhi, India, on Saturday, October 6, 2018. (HT PHOTO)

Facebook will launch a political ads archive for India before the 2019 general elections, a move that will allow people to look at all the ads posted by political parties on the social media platform, Richard Allan, vice president for public policy at the company, said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Saturday.

“People want to see what sort of advertising is being put out. That will allow civil society watchdogs and media to be able to go and see what activity is taking place and if there is anything suspicious they can go ask questions,” he said.

Facebook’s ads archive allows people to look at the ad content across Facebook and Instagram, the duration for which an ad ran, the estimated number of people who saw it, the locations where it was viewed, among other things.

Earlier this year, Facebook initially reported that the Cambridge Analytica quiz app gathered data on some 50 million of its users. Within days, it had revised that number upward by 54% to 77 million. Eventually, the number of users affected was put at 87 million.

Strategic Communications Limited, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, has been active in Indian elections since at least 2003, advising parties on issues such as caste and running the campaigns of candidates for Lok Sabha and state elections, whistle-blower Christopher Wylie posted on Twitter in March.The government has issued fresh notices to Facebook Inc. and Cambridge Analytica seeking responses on misuse of Indians’ data from social media platforms.

The ads archive service is currently active for the US and Brazil. Facebook is committed to bringing the service to India, Allan said. “At this stage, I don’t know how quickly we’ll be able to put that into place, but we’ve got the date of March 2019 firmly in our agenda and our need is to deliver this product before then.”

Allan also spoke of the other policy challenges Facebook is currently facing in India.

On the recommendation of the justice BN Srikrishna committee report on data protection that it should be made mandatory to store a copy of personal data of Indian citizens on servers located in India, Allan reiterated Facebook’s concerns. “We think if internet companies are allowed to put their servers where it’s optimal to deliver that service, that’s going to be a better outcome. Before you can start selling your service in say country X, you have to go and buy an extra service; that’s going to create more friction, and we don’t think that’s necessary.”

Allan acknowledged that the spate of mob lynching incidents, often triggered by fake news and messages circulated on Whatsapp, owned by Facebook, was a ‘horrific situation’.

On the government’s demand that WhatsApp trace the origin of forwarded messages, Alan did not directly say whether the company will comply with the request -- although the firm has said in the past that it would not. Instead, he explained the challenge. “The message starts from my phone and goes to yours. There’s no record of it in the middle,” he said. “They present technical challenges, but we want to engage in a constructive dialogue with the law enforcement agencies, and we want to respond to complaints.”

The company has made “some significant changes to the way the product works to try and make sure that messages are not shared in a way that is problematic,” Allan said. Facebook would like to work on education for both the law enforcement agencies (“putting out their own messages to counteract false messages”) as well as citizens (“to help people how to interpret the messages they’re getting”).

Allan also reflected on the lessons from Facebook’s push of the ‘free basics’ project that, the company said, aimed to provide affordable access to selected Internet services for the unlinked parts of the world. It could not take off in India after Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) ruled against differential data pricing and upheld the principles of net neutrality.

“The most important lesson from ‘free basics’ is that there is an incredible ecosystem of technology companies here in India,” he said, adding, “I don’t think we engaged enough or understood enough about how the people would feel.”

The company is now trying to engage more extensively with various stakeholders — both government and private bodies. “For example we have been developing our application to work on the Jio phone, which has a specific operating system.” The Indian government and Facebook have “common objectives”, he said, especially with respect to expanding the reach of internet access across the country

First Published: Oct 07, 2018 07:09 IST