Facebook Policy Change Curbs Unwarranted Surveillance

Police Hit Inauguration Protestors with Extensive Facebook Data Searches

Image via Daniel Garcia

Facebook has made changes to its platform policy that will bar developers from using its data for surveillance purposes, the company announced on Monday.

Specifically, the social media giant said that they are adding language to their platform policies that forbids developers from using data obtained through such platforms for surveillance purposes. The change in language affects Facebook, as well as Instagram, which the company also owns. “We are committed to building a community where people can feel safe making their voices heard,” Rob Sherman, Facebook’s Deputy Chief Privacy officer, wrote in a statement.

The change comes in the midst of an American Civil Liberties Union investigation of social media surveillance. In October, the ACLU revealed that law enforcement used a tool called Geofeedia to pull data from social media platforms — Facebook and Instagram among them — to monitor protesters in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore. According to CNN, these tools are disproportionately used to target communities of color. Shortly after that report was published, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all cut off support for the surveillance tool, The Verge reported.

In the announcement, Facebook said that it has taken “enforcement actions” against developers who created surveillance tools in violation of their existing policy — and added that the goal of today’s change is to make their anti-surveillance policy explicit. In addition, the Menlo Park-based company said it had worked with civil liberties groups such as the ACLU, Color of Change, and the Center for Media Justice on the update.

“We commend Facebook and Instagram for this step and call on all companies who claim to value diversity and justice to also stand up and do what’s needed to limit invasive social media surveillance from being used to target Black and Brown people in low-income communities,” Color of Change Campaign Director Brandi Collins said in a statement.

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