Facebook Bans Developers From Performing Surveillance Following Activist Protests

(March 14, 2017)Facebook banned apps that could potentially be used for surveillance. This came in following protests by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) California Chapter and other related organizations.

Likewise, Facebook-owned Instagram is also included. The two social media platforms have updated its policy regarding the subject. According to a note written by Rob Sherman, Facebook’s Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, they are adding language to their Facebook and Instagram platform policies to precisely explain that app developers cannot use any data gathered from them (Facebook and Instagram) to offer tools that could potentially be used for surveillance.

The Policy Page for developers has been modified with the language prohibiting the use of any apps for surveillance. Sherman commended and thanked the community leaders working with Facebook for the past months, and brought the attention of the public to the issue. He named these “community leaders| the American Civil Liberties Union of California, Center for Media Justice, and the Color of Change.

Since last fall, the organizations have started advocating changes. They pressured another social media platform, Twitter, to split with Geofeedia and Media Sonar. Geofeedia and Media Sonar are companies responsible for directing the social media information of activists to law enforcement.

Facebook’s Immediate Intervention To Prevent Surveillance

The organizations praised Facebook’s decision, but also said more work must be done to “set robust systems” of enforcement. As evidenced by the records gathered by the ACLU last year, 20 police departments, district attorneys and sheriffs, located in California have gained advantage of social media surveillance tools.

Brandi Collins, Color of Change’s campaign director, said they praise Facebook and Instagram for taking a step. She called on companies who claim to respect diversity and justice to likewise support them and do what is needed to be done to restrict invasive social media surveillances from being used to pinpoint Black and Brown people coming from communities with low income rate. At the same time, California ACLU’s Nicole Ozer said that it is now more than ever. They expect companies to shut down any surveillance tools and ensure no one can use these platforms to target activists and people of color.

Meanwhile, Brennan Center for Justice, which is based in New York, publicized an investigation of 151 U.S. cities, counties as well as law enforcement departments. They have spent over $10,000 worth of software to observe social media for activists, including Black Lives Matters. They used public records to collect the list.

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