Facebook to target 'dark ads' ahead of abortion referendum

Update 6.50pm: Facebook will launch transparency tools in Ireland on April 25 targeting "dark ads" ahead of the abortion referendum.

Ireland will be only the second country after Canada to enjoy the reforms allowing users of the social media network to see advertisements. It precedes a global rollout expected in June, the tech giant said.

It is bidding to win back the trust of its billions of account-holders after Cambridge Analytica was involved in a dispute over the use of personal Facebook data and whether it was used to sway the outcome of the US presidential election and Brexit referendum.

Joel Kaplan, Facebook's vice-president for global policy, said: "We are working hard to build out these transparency tools and roll them out globally but it takes time to do this.

"From April 25 we will add Ireland to our pilot programme."

Facebook vice president of global policy Joel Kaplan arrives to give evidence to the Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment at Leinster House in Dublin as it considers the potential influence of social media on previous and future elections and referenda. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Facebook Ireland's Niamh Sweeney said the programme was aimed at micro-targeting by dark ads, which target users because they are, for example, women living in urban areas or men living in rural regions.

Mr Kaplan told Government TDs that users in Ireland would be able to see all the adverts which advertisers are running on Facebook at the same time.

They will be unable to see who has paid for certain adverts at this stage.

Voters will decide whether they want to change Ireland's strict abortion laws in May.

Mr Kaplan added: "We made the decision only in recent days to accelerate and include Ireland in the pilot programme."

The firm is also reviewing some online apps after the Cambridge Analytica data controversy. Those "similarly situated" are being checked for suspicious activity.

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon arrives to give evidence to the Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment at Leinster House in Dublin as it considers the potential influence of social media on previous and future elections and referenda. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Dr Aleksandr Kogan is accused of giving the private information of tens of millions of Facebook users to controversial election consultants Cambridge Analytica after collecting it via a Facebook app in 2013.

Mr Kaplan told the Dáil: "We are going back and looking at all of the apps similarly situated.

We are now going back and looking at all of those apps seeing if any of them are engaging in suspicious activity.

"If they are we will conduct a full audit and if they have misused their data we will tell the people affected."

He said they were putting in place safeguards and locking down access by developers to some platforms so the problem was not recreated in the future.

Update 5.30pm: Facebook executive apologises and reveals Ireland to be included in pilot Facebook 'transparency' feature

Ireland will be included in a pilot programme for the first phase of Facebook's new 'view ads' feature.

This feature will give people greater transparency on the ads that they see on Facebook, which is particularly important in the context of the forthcoming referendum on the 8th amendment.

From next week, people will be able to see every ad an organisation is running on the site, even if they are not in your news feed.

Senior reps from Facebook also told an Oireachtas committee this afternoon that they could have done better responding to concerns about user data being harvested by Cambridge Analytica.

The site's Vice President for Global Policy, Joel Kaplan has admitted mistakes were made.

He said: "We do not believe we are a victim here, we believe we have a broader responsibility to people who use Facebook.

We want to make right on mistakes we made with respect to this app but we want to go further and give the people who use Facebook the confidence that their data is safe.

    How View Ads Feature Works:

  • View ads is a new feature that will enable Irish users to see all ads an advertiser is running on Facebook at the same time, even if those ads are not in your News Feed.
  • Facebook users can click on the advertiser’s Page, select ‘About’ and scroll to ‘View Active Ads’ where they will see all of the ads that Page is running on Facebook.
  • This update is designed to help ensure users have the information needed to assess all ads on Facebook including political and issue ads.

This announcement follows the launch of a false news educational notice to help people in Ireland spot false news.

Update 5.20pm: People being manipulated through social media in relation to elections and referendums, says Data Protection Commissioner

The Data Protection Commissioner says there are concerns people are being manipulated through social media in relation to elections and referendums.

Recent reporting into the activities of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have brought into focus the question of whether big data analytics and micro-targeting are being used to influence political outcomes.

Appearing before the Communications Committee this afternoon Helen Dixon warned the 'autonomy of individuals is potentially being jeopardised'.

She said: "Big data analytics involves the practice of analysing large data sets using sophisticated algorithms to identify patterns and trends, with a view to informing decisions made in relation to individuals, such as deciding what subsets of individuals might be targetted with selective material in an attempt to influence choices, preferences and behaviours towards a particular outcome."

Update 5pm: Data Protection Commissioner investigating INM employee claims over emails accessed without prior knowledge

The Data Protection Commissioner says they have received complaints from INM employees about their emails being accessed without prior knowledge.

Helen Dixon is appearing before TDs and Senators at an Oireachtas Committee this afternoon.

Commissioner Helen Dixon says they are investigating the claims from INM employees.

Speaking today, she said: "We have also received complaints from individuals within the specific context of that individual and their employment context, that their emails were accessed without their knowledge.

"We have investigated those particular cases."

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon.

Update 3.50pm: Facebook executives facing questions over Cambridge Analytica scandal at Oireachtas

The Data Protection Commissioner is examining how social media can be used to influence people in a political sphere.

Facebook is attending a Dáil Communications Committee meeting this afternoon.

At the hearing, the Commissioner Helen Dixon says there is a need to investigate political micro-targeting and its potential influence on Elections and Referenda.

She says concerns about manipulation of voters have yet to be proved.

She said: "I would emphasise that with political micro-targeting the concerns about the manipulation of voters through such activities remain largely theoretical at this stage.

It has been recognised in the academic context that currently there is no hard evidence of such activity actually having a tangible impact on the outcome of elections.

Earlier: Facebook executives to face questions over Cambridge Analytica scandal at Oireachtas

Some of Facebook's top executives will face questions from TDs and Senators today on the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The Communications Committee is looking into the impact of social media on elections and referendums, like the upcoming abortion vote.

Appearing today are Vice President of Global Policy Joel Kaplan and the Head of Public Policy for Ireland Niamh Sweeney.

The Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon will also give evidence about her role in protecting citizens' personal information.

Committee Chair Deputy Hildegarde Naughton wants to hear whether the commissioner needs more powers.

She said: "I really feel it's important that we have Helen Dixon before the committee to outline areas if she feels that she needs greater powers, we as an Oireachtas definitely need to step in to facilitate that."

Ms Naughton also said Facebook still has questions to answer.

She said: "I don't think there will be anyone holding back in relation to the questions. If we feel we're not getting answers, it's a very serious issue.

"We know the effect of social media, how it fuels opinion now right across every sector from politics to young people and business and communities.

"It is important that when people go online, they know that they are safe."

- Digital Desk

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