Facebook now explicitly prohibits using their data for surveillance

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    Posted to the Facebook Privacy page on Monday, Facebook described the change in language was to better clarify that developers can not use “data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance.” This update to the policy now explicitly states the ban and removed any previous grey area that may have technically allowed such applications. Facebook’s post also said that they have taken “enforcement action” against developers that violated the policy and created tools meant for surveillance.

    Matt Cagle, attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, at SXSW on Monday said “The language does a good job of putting developers on notice that surveillance of user data through Facebook is totally off limits.”

    The ban originally went into effect last year in response to an ACLU report on how Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were supplying user data to Geofeedia. Based on the research done by the ACLU, Geofeedia was being marketed to law enforcement as a tool to monitor activists and protestors. Specifically, Geofeedia said in their marketing to law enforcement that they had “special access to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram user data” and that a feature of their application “covered Ferguson/Mike Brown nationally with great success.

    Further investigation into the “special access” and data available to the surveillance via the social media APIs were:

    • A stream of Instagram’s public users posts via the Instagram API provided a stream of public Instagram user posts and location data. Instagram had terminated Geofeedia’s access on September 19, 2016.
    • Facebook’s data feed was accessed via the Topic Feed API that provided “a ranked feed of public posts from Facebook that mention a specific topic, including hashtags, events, or specific places.” Facebook terminated Geofeedia’s access on September 19, 2016.
    • Twitter had an agreement with a subsidiary of Geofeedia to provide them searchable access to public tweets. After July 11th, 2016 when Twitter found out the subsidiary violated their updated policy they sent Geofeedia a cease and desist.

    According to a study done by Brennan Center for Justice, 156 districts in the US spent around $5.6 million dollars on tools to monitor social media for protests, potential threats, and breaking news.