Face­book: Po­lice can’t use its data for ‘sur­veil­lance’

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By El­iz­a­beth Dwoskin

Face­book is cut­ting po­lice de­part­ments off from a vast trove of data that has been in­creas­ingly used to mon­i­tor pro­test­ers and ac­tivists. The move, which the so­cial

net­work an­nounced Monday, comes in the wake of con­cerns over law en­force- ment’s track­ing of pro­test­ers’ so­cial me­dia ac­counts in places such as Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, and Bal­ti­more. It also comes at a time when chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Zuck-

er­berg says he is ex­pand­ing the com­pany’s mis­sion from merely “con­nect­ing the world” into friend net­works to pro­mot­ing safety and com­mu­nity.

Al­though the so­cial net­work’s core busi­ness is ad­ver­tis­ing, Face­book, along with Twit­ter and Face­book-owned In­sta­gram, also pro­vides de­vel­op­ers ac­cess to users’ pub­lic feeds. The de­vel­op­ers use the data to mon­i­tor trends and pub­lic events. For exam- ple, ad­ver­tis­ers have tracked how and which con­sumers are dis­cussing their prod­ucts, while the Red Cross has used so­cial data to get real-time in­for­ma­tion dur­ing disas- ters such as Hur­ri­cane Sandy.

But the so­cial net­works have come un­der fire for work­ing with third par­ties who mar­ket the data to law en­force­ment. Last year, Face- book, In­sta­gram and Twit­ter cut off ac­cess to Ge­ofee- dia, a startup that shared data with law en­force­ment, in re­sponse to an in­ves­tiga- tion by the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union. The ACLU pub­lished doc­u­ments that made ref­er­ences to track-

ing ac­tivists at protests in Bal­ti­more in 2015 af­ter the death of a black man, Fred­die Gray, while in po­lice cus­tody and also to protests in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, in 2014 af­ter the po­lice shoot­ing of Michael Brown, an un­armed black 18-year-old.

On Monday, Face­book updated its in­struc­tions for de­vel­op­ers to say that they can­not “use data ob­tained from us to pro­vide tools that are used for sur­veil­lance.”

The com­pany also said, in an ac­com­pa­ny­ing blog post, that it had kicked other de­vel­op­ers off the plat­form since it had cut ties with Ge­ofee­dia.

Un­til now, Face­book hasn’t been ex­plicit about who can use in­for­ma­tion that users post pub­licly. This can in­clude a person’s friend list, lo­ca­tion, birth­day, pro­file pic- ture, ed­u­ca­tion his­tory, rela- tion­ship sta­tus and po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion — if they make their pro­file or cer­tain posts pub­lic.

Some de­part­ments have praised the tools, which they say helps them fight crime — for ex­am­ple, if gang lead­ers pub­licly post ref­er­ences to their crimes.

In a state­ment about the changes, which were the re­sults of sev­eral months of con­ver­sa­tions with ac­tivists, the ACLU and other groups lauded Face­book’s move as a “first step.”

“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,” Ni­cole Ozer, tech­nol­ogy and civil lib­er­ties di­rec­tor at the ACLU of Cal­i­for­nia, said in the state­ment. “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 color and ac­tivists.”

The new pol­icy lan­guage does not kick law en­force­ment off the plat­form. For one, the com­pany co­op­er­ates with law en­force­ment on a case-by-case ba­sis for help in solv­ing crimes.

Po­lice and fed­eral agen­cies may still siphon peo­ple’s feeds in cases of na­tional dis­as­ters and emer­gen­cies, Face­book

of­fi­cials said. It was un­clear how Face­book would de­cide which emer­gen­cies and pub­lic events would war­rant mon­i­tor­ing cit­i­zens’ data and which would con­sti­tute un­rea­son­able “sur­veil­lance.”

“Sur­veil­lance” was also not de­fined in the blog post, a po­ten­tial gray area that out

siders can ex­ploit.

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