Facebook is Warning Developers Not to Abuse User Data

The Shred Centre
Facebook have yet again been placed under pressure by the American Civil Liberties Union, who have (alongside a few other groups) repeatedly raised concerns about the way developers handle user data. On several occasions, they've provided evidence of user data being used to create law enforcement surveillance tools.

Whenever this activity has been uncovered, Facebook have been quick to revoke access, but it's continued to happen. Perhaps the worst instance was last October, when it was discovered that the tracking tool Geofeedia was using API data from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to snatch up posts by protestors and then sell them to authorities.

Neither Facebook nor Twitter have ever made any secret of the fact that they aren't happy about this, but as is often the way, their response has been almost exclusively reactionary. Now, however, Facebook have updated their policies to state that no developers can use data for surveillance. They've already severed ties with a number of developers who had been caught doing this.

Some developers have gotten off more lightly, with Facebook instead offering to help them change their apps to place them back within policy guidelines, but for the most part, this is a zero tolerance approach. Twitter made a similar pledge back in November, and since then the number of data misuse reports on the platform has significantly decreased.

Of course, decreased isn't the same as disappeared, and Facebook is notorious for sketchy developers peddling apps designed to make users turn over access to their data with the faint promise of some vaguely interesting quiz result ('Which Marvel Superhero Are You?' and so forth). If this policy change is to have any real substance, Facebook need to enforce it more actively.

At the moment, they use a combination of automated alerts and moderators to find and deal with policy violations, but clearly that isn't enough. Simply put, developers should be openly communication with Facebook about everything they're doing, and Facebook should be monitoring their activity very carefully. At the moment, it doesn't feel that way.

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