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Facebook updates its platform policy to forbid using data for surveillance

Facebook reflection in an eye
Dado Ruvic | Getty Images

Facebook today announced changes to its platform policy that forbid developers from using the company's data for surveillance purposes.

The changes include language "to more clearly explain that developers cannot 'use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance,'" the company said in a blog post. "Our goal is to make our policy explicit." The changes apply to Instagram as well.

Facebook alluded to recent incidents where the company already took "enforcement action" against third-party developers with data access. In October, the ACLU revealed that law enforcement had used the social media surveillance tool Geofeedia to access data from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The tool was used by police to monitor protests after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, the report revealed.

All three companies terminated the company's data access. (The Verge later reported that Facebook had itself used Geofeedia for corporate security.) After the controversy, Twitter also affirmed its position. "Using Twitter's Public APIs or data products to track or profile protesters and activists is absolutely unacceptable and prohibited," the company said in November.

Facebook says it worked with civil liberties groups, including the ACLU and Color of Change, to craft the policy change. "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," Brandi Collins, campaign director for Color of Change, said in a statement.