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Facebook Gives Academics Access To Data

More than 60 academics from around the world will receive access to Facebook‘s data for the first time.

The social media giant, which boasts 2.4 billion monthly users, will allow academics to look at websites linked by Facebook users from January 2017 to February 2019, as well as the system that advertisers and marketers use to access the site’s data. In addition, the academics will be able to see CrowdTangle, a tool that shows publishers how content is spreading across the site.

Chosen by the Social Science Research Council, a nonprofit U.S. organization, the academics come from 30 institutions, and include researchers studying how Facebook played a part in elections in Italy and Germany. It’s important to note, though, that the time frame the academics have access to doesn’t include information about the 2016 U.S. election or the U.K.’s Brexit vote.

Facebook has been under fire for its data privacy protections since it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica improperly collected personal data from Facebook users that was allegedly used to help elect U.S. President Donald Trump. Just last month, it was reported that Facebook employees had made known internal concerns about the issue in September 2015.

To protect its users’ data during the academics’ research, Facebook said it will apply “differential privacy,” introducing “noise” to the information so that researchers cannot personally identify individuals.

Chaya Nayak, Facebook’s data policy manager, said the timeframe selected by Facebook was to “prioritize getting the data out as fast as possible,” adding that the possibility of extending the data further back in time was “under discussion.” While academics will not need approval from Facebook before publishing their research, Nayak said the company would keep track of how the database is used, and the academics would be required to sign strict legal agreements.

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