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​Facebook bans use of its data for surveillance tools

Social network updates its developers' instructions to explicitly prohibit use of its data for tools police use to track protesters.

Facebook updated a policy to prohibit developers from using its data to create surveillance tools.
Jaap Arriens, NurPhoto via Getty Images

Heavily nudged by the ACLU, Facebook on Monday said it has updated its policies to explicitly ban developers from using its data for surveillance tools.

"Today we are adding language to our Facebook and Instagram platform policies to more clearly explain that developers cannot 'use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance,'" Rob Sherman, Facebook's deputy chief privacy officer, wrote in a post on the company's privacy page.

An ACLU report released in October found that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provided feeds of user data to a social-media monitoring program used by police to track racially charged protests in Oakland, Calif., and Baltimore. The group called on the companies to make changes that ensure this type of situation doesn't happen again.

While Facebook's core business is advertising, it also provides developers with access to public feeds that are used to monitor trends and other public happenings. One of those developers created monitoring products marketed to law enforcement to track activists.

Facebook said Monday's update was the result of months of work with advocacy organizations including the ACLU of California, Color of Change and the Center for Media Justice.

Those groups thanked Facebook for its efforts, noting that the work continues.

"We applaud this first step from Facebook and encourage all technology companies to stand on the side of history that supports human rights and dignity," Malkia Cyril, executive director and founder of the Center for Media Justice, said in a statement.