Facebook and Instagram ban developers from using data for surveillance

Facebook barred software developers on Monday from using the massive social network's data to create surveillance tools, closing off a process that had been exploited by US police departments to track protesters

14 March 2017, 8:51am
Facebook, Instagram and rival Twitter came under fire last year from privacy advocates after a report revealed that police were using user data to spy on Black Lives Matter protesters
Facebook, Instagram and rival Twitter came under fire last year from privacy advocates after a report revealed that police were using user data to spy on Black Lives Matter protesters
Facebook and Instagram have banned developers from using their data for surveillance with a new privacy policy that civil rights activists have long sought to curb spying by law enforcement.

Following revelations last year that police departments had gained special access to the social networks to track protesters, Facebook, which owns Instagram, announced on Monday that it had updated its rules to state that developers could not “use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance”.

“Our goal is to make our policy explicit. 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,” Rob Sherman, Deputy Chief Privacy Officer at Facebook, said in the post.

Facebook, Instagram and rival Twitter came under fire last year from privacy advocates after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a report that police were using location data and other user information to spy on Black Lives Matter protesters in places such as Ferguson, Missouri. ACLU obtained government records last year that showed that the social networks had provided users’ data to Geofeedia, a software company that aids police surveillance programmes.

According to the Guardian newspaper, ACLU has praised the policy reform, saying that written policies must be backed up by rigorous oversight and swift action for violations.

“Now more than ever, we expect companies to slam shut any surveillance side doors and make sure nobody can use their platforms to target people of color and activists,” Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director at the ACLU of California, said in a statement.