Facebook Bans Developers from Using Data for Surveillance Tools

Facebook has moved to ban developers from exploiting user data to help create surveillance tools.

The decision appears to be in response to criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) aimed at Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram as well as rival social network Twitter. ACLU claimed that law enforcement organizations were using user data, including location information, to spy on people. Most notably, the ACLU report claimed it was being used to track protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.

Now Facebook has announced an update to its terms and conditions, which apply to Instagram as well, to specifically block developers from using data from Facebook for the purpose of surveillance.

“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.' Our goal is to make our policy explicit,” Rob Sherman, deputy chief privacy officer at Facebook, wrote.

“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,” he added.

"We applaud this first step from Facebook," Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice said in the Telegraph. "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.

"It's clear there is more work to be done to protect communities of color from social media spying, censorship and harassment."

Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director at ACLU California, said in a statement: “We depend on social networks to connect and communicate about the most important issues in our lives and the core political and social issues in our country.

"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."

Facebook is no stranger to controversy over the data it collects. In August 2016 it angered users by changing the terms and conditions of WhatsApp to allow greater data sharing between the two. It rolled back those plans in November 2016. Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 for $19bn.

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