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Meta Announces New Program to Share Data with Academic Researchers

Meta has announced a new research partnership with the Center for open Science (COS), which will provide COS analysts with selected, privacy-protected Facebook and Instagram engagement data, in order to facilitate research into behavioral and engagement trends.

As per COS:

Meta is partnering with the Center for Open Science (COS) on a pilot program to share certain privacy-preserving social media data with a select group of academic researchers to study topics related to well-being. Social media companies, like Meta, have an opportunity to contribute to the public’s scientific understanding of how different factors may or may not impact well-being and inform productive conversations about how to help people thrive.”

As COS notes, the main focus of the initial research will be on user well-being, and the impacts of social media connection on broader interactive and behavioral trends. Each research project will be vetted via peer review, with researchers required to submit a proposed research question and methodology, which will then be assessed for viability before proceeding to data collection stage.

Research of this type used to be fairly commonplace for Meta, before the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 forced the company to up its data security measures, and cut off virtually all research projects.

The team from Cambridge Analytica had used Facebook data that was intended for academic research at the University of Cambridge to then onsell that info to political groups, which had been repackaged as part of an influence project designed to sway election outcomes.

As a result of this breach of its user privacy agreements, Meta was fined a record $5 billion by the FTC, while the settlement also included new regulations around the use of data, as well as clauses to implement more protections against similar misuse in future.

The Cambridge Analytica incident sparked widespread changes in Meta’s approach to data privacy, and it’s been very cautious about working with researchers ever since. But at the same time, given its platforms are used by close to half the world’s population, the value of insight that Meta can provide is significant, and could lead to new advances in various fields, based on broader understanding.

Which is why Meta is looking to work with more academic groups once again, albeit in a more restrained, protected sense.

It’s a good outcome for academia, though it will be interesting to see just how many research projects Meta allows, and which proposals are approved under this new agreement.

Meta’s new arrangement with the Center for Open Science will be part of a two-year pilot, with more detail to be shared in the coming months.

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