Facebook Shut Down Project That Looked into its Algorithm

Anthony Quintano from Honolulu, HI, United States via (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en) Wikimedia Commons

Researchers were forced to stop investigating Instagram’s algorithms after Instagram’s parent company Facebook threatened them with a lawsuit.

Researchers studying Instagram’s algorithm said they were forced to shut down their project after Facebook threatened to sue them.

AlgorithmWatch, a German research and advocacy organization, issued a statement Friday alleging Facebook had threatened it with legal action. The group was researching Instagram’s news feed algorithm by recruiting volunteers to install a browser extension that automatically scraped their Instagram newsfeed data.

Researchers allege Facebook, the owner of Instagram, told them the extension violated its terms of service and the company would pursue a “more formal engagement” if they did not disable it. The group said this was a “thinly veiled threat.”

“Facebook’s reaction shows that any organization that attempts to shed light on one of their algorithms is under constant threat of being sued,” the researchers wrote. The group shut down its project on July 13, citing fear of legal action from the tech giant.

Facebook has denied that it had threatened the researchers, Facebook alleges that they instead wanted to help find a way a the group could continue its work while not violating the companies policies.

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