Facebook and Instagram ban developers from using data for surveillance

14 Mar 2017

People live broadcasting on Facebook at protest in Romania. Image: Gabriel Petrescu/Shutterstock

Facebook and its sister site Instagram have banned the sharing of user data with developers for surveillance purposes.

With protest movements such as Black Lives Matter developing in recent years and the March for Science scheduled to take place this April, social media services such as Facebook and Instagram are finding themselves under intense pressure to release user data for surveillance.

Last year, Facebook was criticised by civil rights groups after third-party developers with access to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter data were found to be selling user data to US law enforcement.

At the time, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found an email sent between a company called Geofeedia and police, which showed that the company was advertising the ability to use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram data to monitor activity and individuals at popular protests.

Now, according to The Guardian, Facebook is officially changing its stance to the point that is banning any developers from using its data for surveillance of protests, or for any infringement on privacy rights.

“Our goal is to make our policy explicit,” Facebook said in a post.

“Over the past several months, we have taken enforcement action against developers who created and marketed tools meant for surveillance, in violation of our existing policies; we want to be sure everyone understands the underlying policy and how to comply.”

Tech companies should ‘take a stand to be human rights champions’

Civil liberties groups are strongly in favour of the new policy, particularly the ACLU.

“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 colour and activists,” said ACLU’s Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director.

Another group that had been pressuring Facebook to make the change was the Center for Media Justice, with its executive director, Malkia Cyril, saying that tech companies should “take a stand to be human rights champions”.

“We hope Facebook will encourage other tech companies to refuse to share data for the purposes of wide-scale government surveillance,” Cyril added.

People live broadcasting on Facebook at protest in Romania. Image: Gabriel Petrescu/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic