Facebook data 'off-limits' for spy tools

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Facebook logoImage source, AFP

Facebook data can no longer be used by developers to create surveillance tools, the social network has said.

It follows the American Civil Liberties Union of California's revelations the police had used surveillance tool Geofeedia to access data from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The ACLU said Facebook had made it "crystal clear" such data was now off-limits.

It called for swift action when there were any violations of the new rules.

In a blogpost, Rob Sherman, deputy chief privacy officer at Facebook, said developers could no longer "use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance".

"We are committed to building a community where people can feel safe making their voices heard," he said.

"Our approach involves making careful decisions every day about how we use and protect data at Facebook."

Democratic dissent

Last year, the ACLU of California obtained thousands of pages of public records that revealed some 20 law enforcement agencies in the state had acquired social media spying software, such as Geofeedia, that allowed them to track civil rights activists.

The ACLU suggested that "law enforcement should not be using tools that treat protesters like enemies", noting that it had found no evidence of "any public notice, debate, community input or lawmaker vote" about the use of such software.

In November, after the ACLU revelations, Twitter said that using its data to "track or profile protesters and activists is absolutely unacceptable and prohibited".

In response to Facebook's changes, the ACLU of California's technology director, Nicole Ozer, said: "We depend on social networks to connect and communicate about the most important issues in our lives and the core political and social issues in our country.

"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."

Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, said: "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 licence to thrive.

"It's clear there is more work to be done to protect communities of colour from social media spying, censorship and harassment."