Facebook Bans Surveillance Tools

Facebook relents under pressure from civil liberties groups and bans developers from using social networks to create surveillance tools.

Facebook announced that it has stopped software developers from being able to access the social network’s data to create surveillance tools, finally closing off a dubious situation that has seen third party vendors exploiting that information and selling it to law enforcement agencies to track protesters.

Facebook Bans Surveillance Tools

Facebook and Twitter first came under fire from privacy advocates late last year

The move comes after sustained complaints by the California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and a host of other organizations. As a result, Facebook has banned apps that have the potential to be used for surveillance amongst its users and updated its policy for app developers. The new rules also apply to Instagram, that Facebook owns.

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’,” Facebook’s Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman wrote at the beginning of this week.

It was late in 2016 that Facebook and Twitter came under fire from privacy advocates after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that police used location data and other user information to spy on protesters in places such as Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Racially charged protests broke out in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in the aftermath of the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.

According to ACLU, in 2015 an email message, reportedly from a Geofeedia employee, a company named as using data from social media and selling it to law enforcement agencies, talked of “great success” covering the protests. Geofeedia is a Chicago based seller of data and works with organisations to fully utilise and leverage social media. Facebook has now banned such use of its user data in future.

“Our goal is to make our policy explicit,” Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer, said in a post on the social network on Monday.

According to the ACLU, last year 20 police departments, sheriffs and district attorneys in California alone used social media surveillance tools.