Facebook and its sister service, Instagram, will prohibit the use of their data for mass surveillance purposes. The two services took similar (albeit more limited) action last year, but at the time they didn’t commit to a developer policy that clearly prohibits the use of its data to build surveillance tools.
Social Media Surveillance Tools
Back in October 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a blog post in which it revealed that 40% of California’s law enforcement agencies purchased access to various social media surveillance tools. The number surprised even the ACLU, because there was no public debate on whether the police should be using tools that enable mass surveillance.
The ACLU also unveiled that one of the primary uses of such tools was to target activists, unions, and people protesting police violence in places like San Jose and Baltimore. Even the marketing materials of some of these surveillance tools were calling the activist groups “overt threats.”
The civil liberties group reached out to Twitter, as well as to Facebook and Instagram, to convince them to ban some of the services using the social media platforms’ data to enable mass surveillance. All three social media companies ended up limiting access to such tools. However, among the three, only Twitter adopted a platform-wide policy to restrict further use of its data for surveillance purposes.
Surveillance Tools Prohibited On Facebook, Instagram
Today, Facebook caught up with Twitter by announcing an anti-surveillance developer policy for both of its social media platforms. The policy was requested by a coalition of organizations, including the ACLU, the Center for Media Justice, and Color of Change.
“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,” said Malkia Cyril, Executive Director and Founder of the Center for Media Justice. “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. It's clear there is more work to be done to protect communities of color from social media spying, censorship and harassment,” added Cyril.
The ACLU said that adopting policies that restrict the use of user data for mass surveillance purposes is only the first step. The next step will be for these written policies to be enforced, as well, through rigorous oversight and with swift action against violations.