The breakneck-speed at which Facebook has expanded inevitably means they have to take on roles they may not have anticipated.
The proliferation of fake news, biased timelines (that only show you what you want to see) and moderating hateful language or graphic imagery are some of the well documented struggles all social networks have faced recently. Now, it seems a new challenge has emerged: protecting user data.
We all know that advertising is Facebook’s core business. But you might not be aware that they also sell access to users’ news feeds. Most of the time this is for positive causes. The Red Cross crossed used Facebook date to get real-time information during Hurricane Sandy, for example.
Recently, though, the world’s biggest social network came under fire for working with third parties who market the date to law enforcement. In 2016 Facebook, Twitter and Facebook-owned Instagram cut ties with Geofeedia – a start up that shared data in law enforcement. The move came after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published documents that showed Geofeedia had tracked protestors in Baltimore in 2015, after the death of Freddie Gray.
The same was true in Ferguson in 2014, following the death of Michael Brown. Now Facebook has moved to stop similar sites accessing their data. They updated their developers policy this week to say they cannot “use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance.”
Until now, Facebook has remained neutral over who can use the public-data provided on their platform. Data that includes a person’s location, profile picture, friend’s list, birthday, education history, relationship status and political affiliation.
While on the surface such a policy change seems a good thing. There are occasions when criminals, particularly gang members, publicly post references to a crime they’ve committed.
“It’s a great first step, but it is only a first step,” says Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice. “We need the will to come from within to take transparency one step further, document your enforcement, and tell us how enforcement is going through independent audits.”
“Social media companies they’re no longer just connecting people. Now they have an extraordinary responsibility to also protect. I don’t think they’re ready for that responsibility.”