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Facebook bars developers from surveillance after activist complaints

Facebook bars developers from surveillance after activist complaints
After complaints by the California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and several other organizations, Facebook Inc. has banned apps that could be used for surveillance of Facebook and Instagram users and updated its policy on the subject.

“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 on Monday.

The developer policy page was indeed updated with the language barring the use of apps for surveillance.

Sherman thanked “community leaders” who worked with Facebook for several months and brought public attention to the issue, naming the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California, Color of Change, and the Center for Media Justice.

The three organizations have been pushing for the changes since last fall when they pressured Twitter to sever ties to Geofeedia and Media Sonar, companies they said funneled activists’ social media information to law enforcement.

On Monday, the coalition applauded Facebook’s decision but said more work needs to be done to “establish robust systems” of enforcement.

“We applaud this first step from Facebook and encourage all technology companies to stand on the side of history that supports human rights and dignity,” Malkia Cyril, founder of the Center for Media Justice, said in a statement. “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 and gives authoritarianism a license to thrive.”

“We commend Facebook and Instagram for this step and call on all companies who claim to value diversity and justice to also stand up and do what’s needed to limit invasive social media surveillance from being used to target Black and Brown people in low-income communities,” said Brandi Collins, Campaign Director for Color of Change.

“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,” said Nicole Ozer of the California ACLU.

Records obtained by the ACLU last year showed that 20 police departments, sheriffs and district attorneys in California used social media surveillance tools.

The New York-based Brennan Center for Justice published an analysis of 151 US cities, counties and law enforcement departments that have spent more than $10,000 on software to monitor social media for activists like Black Lives Matter, using public records to compile the list.