Facebook Clamps Down on Developers Using Data for Surveillance

Facebook Inc. on Monday clarified its policies to state that outside developers cannot use consumer data for surveillance purposes, a move that follows pressure from privacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

“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,” Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer, wrote in a post.

In October, the Center for Media Justice and Color of Change joined the ACLU of California in requesting that Twitter Inc., Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, make changes to protect users from surveillance after the ACLU’s California chapter obtained records showing those companies gave Geofeedia, developer of a social media monitoring product, access to the consumer data. The ACLU of California said it had seen Geofeedia marketed to law enforcement as a tool to surveil activists and protesters.

Sherman said Facebook is “grateful” for the work done by the three groups and their cooperation over the past “several months” in making the update, and for helping “bring public attention to this important issue while advocating for positive change.”

“Social media platforms are a powerful tool for Black people to draw attention to the injustices our community faces,” Brandi Collins, campaign director for Color of Change, said in a Monday statement that commended Facebook and Instagram for their steps, while urging other companies to limit surveillance of low-income communities and minorities.

In November, Twitter said it prohibits outside developers from allowing law enforcement to use their data for targeted surveillance.

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