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Facebook Bans Developers From Using Data for Surveillance

Facebook this week announced an update to its platform policies to ban developers from using data obtained from the company to build surveillance tools.

Facebook this week announced an update to its platform policies to ban developers from using data obtained from the company to build surveillance tools.

The change was made not only to the Facebook platform policy, but to the Instagram’s as well, and impacts all developers interested in using the Facebook and Instagram APIs to build applications and services.

Starting this week, the first data protection policy listed on Facebook for Developers (the same as the 28th general term on the Instagram platform policy page) also reads “don’t use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance.” Previously, it only required developers to protect the information received from the company “against unauthorized access, use, or disclosure.”

Earlier this year, software security startup Fallible revealed that many Android applications unnecessarily store keys or secrets (which could leak sensitive data) related to some of the most popular online services, Instagram included (along with Twitter, Flickr, Dropbox, Slack, Uber, and Amazon AWS).

Facebook is determined to both make the policy explicit and enforce it. Over the past several months, the company has been working with the American Civil Liberties Union of California (ACLU), Color of Change, and the Center for Media Justice on this update and on increasing the public awareness on the issue.

“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,” Rob Sherman, Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, Facebook, says.

In October last year, Facebook (and Twitter) cut access to certain data for analytics firm Geofeedia after an ACLU report revealed that Geofeedia’s social media monitoring product was being “marketed to law enforcement as a tool to monitor activists and protesters.” The report was referring to the wave of protests in the Missouri community after the police shooting of an unarmed African-American man and also stated that “law enforcement has used Geofeedia to monitor protests.”

“Over the years, we have learned the importance of updating these policies to offer more clarity or incorporate constructive feedback. These changes help us improve our community and discourage unwanted behavior,” Sherman also notes.

Recently, Facebook updated its Advertising Policies to ban ads that promote payday loans, after an update last year more explicitly prohibited various kinds of discriminatory advertising. Future policy updates are to be expected as well, as the company works to “support our community,” Sherman concludes.

Related: Facebook Awards $40,000 Bounty for ImageTragick Hack

Related: Facebook Launches Certificate Transparency Monitoring Tool

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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