Facebook’s core business may be advertising, but the social network, along with Facebook-owned Instagram, also gives developers access to users’ public feeds. The developers then use the data to monitor trends and public events. But the social networks have come under fire for working with third parties who market the data to law enforcement.
Last year, the two social networks, along with Twitter, shut down access to Geogeedia, a start-up that was sharing data with law enforcement. The decision came as a result of an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union, which published documents that made references to tracking activists at protests in Baltimore in 2015 following the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, while in police custody, as well as protests in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 following the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.
Now, Facebook is making it clear that it will no longer allow its data to be used by companies that sell your location to law-enforcement agencies.
The move, announced on Monday, comes during a time when chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says the company’s mission will expand from “connecting the world” into friend networks and into promoting safety and community. The new rule also applies to its subsidiary photo-sharing site, Instagram.
The March 13 announcement from Facebook said it has “taken enforcement action against developers who created and marketed tools meant for surveillance,” which likely refers to the GeoFeedia scandal from mid-September. “We are committed to building a community where people can feel safe making their voices heard,” the company wrote.
Geofeedia’s actions weren’t exactly illegal, but its actions led to enough concern over the unfair targeting of communities of colour. Social media has largely become a platform for activists and movements, and the effect the data selling had on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter works entirely against their inclusivity.
“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,” announced Brandi Collins, campaign director for Color of Change.
Twitter didn’t actually give Geofeedia access to data for tracking and monitoring, and though it already had a “longstanding rule” forbidding the sale of user data for surveillance, it took further actions to tighten up its policy in November.
Some departments have commended the tools in question, which they claim help fight crime. U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions is among those in favour, saying a federal law should be implemented allowing for emergency disclosures of user data, while others believe such a law would only lead to corruption.
In a statement about the changes, the ACLU and other groups called Facebook’s move a necessary first step. “We are very pleased that after the ACLU of California raised concerns, Facebook and Instagram ended their data relationships with Geofeedia. We all write today to highlight the following additional concrete steps that Facebook and Instagram both need to take to adequately protect users going forward.”
To read some CE articles on Edward Snowden and mass surveillance, please click here.
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