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New Facebook Policy Bars Use of Site Data for Surveillance

Developers who build apps based on Facebook and Instagram user data cannot use that information to create surveillance tools, according to a policy update announced yesterday. Facebook, which also owns Instagram, made the changes after months of discussions with civil rights groups.

The company began those talks in the fall after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California found many law enforcement agencies were using surveillance software to monitor protestors and activists via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter data. That software was provided by Geofeedia, a Chicago-based social media monitoring company.

Both Facebook and Twitter cut off Geofeedia’s access to their user data following the ACLU’s revelations in October. Yesterday’s data policy update for Facebook and Instagram was welcomed by the ACLU of California, the Center for Media Justice and Color of Change.


‘More Work To Be Done’

Facebook and Instagram’s data policies were updated to “more clearly explain that developers cannot ‘use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance,'” Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer, wrote yesterday on the Facebook and Privacy page.

“Our goal is to make our policy explicit,” Sherman added. “Over the past several months we have taken enforcement action against developers who created and marketed tools meant for surveillance, in violation of our existing policies; we want to be sure everyone understands the underlying policy and how to comply.”

Malkia Cyril, executive director and founder of the Center for Media Justice, said he applauded the policy update as a first step.

“When technology companies allow their platforms and devices to be used to conduct mass surveillance of activists and other targeted communities, it chills democratic dissent and gives authoritarianism a license to thrive,” Cyril said in a joint statement issued by the three civil rights organizations. “It’s clear there is…

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