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Facebook bars data surveillance

Ofentse Maphari | 14 March 2017

Facebook has decided to bar software developers from using the social network’s data to create surveillance tools. This closes off a process that has been exploited by US police departments to track protesters through their accounts by the posts they make.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter came under fire last year from privacy advocates after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a report that police were using location data and other user information to spy on protesters.

Facebook has updated its policies to explicitly forbid developers from using its data, which includes Instagram’s to create surveillance tools that target its users. The social network says it has come down on these monitoring platforms for violating  policies that have been put in place.

The move comes after the ACLU, Color of Change and other organisations called out  Facebook and Twitter for not doing enough to prevent law enforcement from easily tracking protesters using their social network data.

The groups argue that social surveillance tools are working against the right to free speech. You’re unlikely to speak out if you know police will start watching your every move waiting to pounce. There’s has also been concern that users may be falsely implicated in criminal behavior simply because you posted in they same general location as a handful of protesters that broke the law. The question of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be no surveillance completely. This policy is viewed as just a “first step”,  Facebook has to properly enforce the policy through both automated and human-controlled means, and quickly give developers the boot if they’re found violating the rules.

Is this happening? The proof will come if and when a developer is found misusing Facebook data in the future.

(Featured Image: iStock)

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