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Facebook tackles surveillance concerns

News, 15 March 2017
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SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook has announced that it is updating its data protection policy to ban developers from using data taken from the social network for surveillance purposes.

The initiative, which was announced in a blog post by Rob Sherman, Facebook's Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, will also extend to Instagram, its mobile photo-sharing app.

"Today we are adding language to our Facebook and Instagram platform policies to more clearly explain that developers cannot 'use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance'," Sherman wrote.

He added that Facebook's aim is to make its policy explicit and that "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".

It comes a few months after the American Civil Liberties Union of California (ACLU) revealed that Geofeedia, a developer of social media monitoring software, had used data from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to help police monitor protests in the US.

"Because Geofeedia obtained this access to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as a developer, it could access a flow of data that would otherwise require an individual to 'scrape' user data off of the services in an automated fashion that is prohibited by the terms of service," the ACLU report warned last October.

"With this special access, Geofeedia could quickly access public user content and make it available to the 500 law enforcement and public safety clients claimed by the company," it added.

Rob Sherman thanked the ACLU for working with Facebook over the past few months to help draft its latest update and he also expressed gratitude to other civil liberties groups, such as Color of Change and the Center for Media Justice. At the same time, he called on other companies to take positive steps too.

Data sourced from Facebook, ACLU; additional content by Warc staff

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