Social Media Ban on Using Their Data for Surveillance


This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)

The new privacy policy announced by Facebook and Instagram bans developers from using their data for surveillance. Following revelations last year that police departments had gained special access to the social networks to track protesters, Facebook, which owns Instagram, announced that it had updated its rules to state that developers could not “use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance”.

According to, the news is a victory for civil liberties groups in the US, which have increasingly raised concerns about mass surveillance and aggressive prosecutions of activists under Donald Trump’s administration.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained government records last year revealing that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter had provided users’ data to a software company that aids police surveillance programs and had helped law enforcement monitor Black Lives Matter demonstrations. The ACLU found that the social networking sites had given “special access” to Geofeedia, a controversial startup that has partnered with law enforcement to track streams of user content.

In response to the revelations, the tech companies cut off Geofeedia’s access, though activist groups, including Color of Change, have continued to push for a broader policy restricting these kinds of collaborations.

According to Facebook’s recent announcement, “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.”

The ACLU praised the policy reform and said: “Written policies must be backed up by rigorous oversight and swift action for violations.”

The ACLU’s previous investigations had found that social media surveillance software companies had referred to unions and activists as “overt threats” and that one police agency in California used tools to track South Asian, Muslim and Sikh protesters.

In December, ACLU findings also prompted Twitter to block federally funded “domestic spy centers” from using certain social media monitoring technology.