Facebook bans developers from using data for surveillance

Facebook is everywhere. With over one billion users worldwide, and another 100 million on Instagram, Facebook controls a considerable share of the Internet market. They have access to information about all of those users, information that some say could be used against them. Facebook’s privacy policy has previously offered little in the way of protection for their vast network of customers, suggesting they convert their pages to ‘friends only’ and making sure their posts are private. Now though, Facebook has provided something that civil rights activists have been asking about  for years. Their new policy bans developers on both Facebook and Instagram from using Facebook’s data for surveillance.

Beginning at least as far back as the Arab Spring in 2010, users have taken advantage of the site to promote political agendas — organizing protests, setting up lines of communication, recruiting members to their causes — and many have worried that governments in particular might attempt to collect their online data in order to spy on them.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) discovered that this was true. Facebook, Instagram, and also Twitter were found to have provided user data to a controversial social media monitoring company, Geofeedia, which was used by police to track the activities of Black Lives Matter protesters.

“The fact that third parties are making big money off of the sale and trading of our data with law enforcement is a huge problem and one that any social media user in this country or beyond should be disgusted and surprised by,” Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice told The Guardian. “It clearly has a chilling effect on democratic protests.”

Activists called for Facebook and other social media companies to revise their policies to prevent anything like this from happening again. This new change in the Facebook and Instagram privacy policy does just that.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook said in a post on the social media site that the company spends a lot of time trying to make the Internet safe and secure for users.

“We encrypt communications, we use secure protocols for traffic, we encourage people to use multiple factors for authentication and we go out of our way to help fix issues we find in other people’s services,” wrote Zuckerberg, adding that “[t]he Internet works because most people and companies do the same. We work together to create this secure environment and make our shared space even better for the world.”

Zuckerberg said that he is “confused and frustrated” by the alleged behaviour of the US government, and the behaviour of law enforcement that was discovered by the ACLU.

“When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government. The US government should be the champion for the Internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.”

Zuckerberg ended his statement with a call to action, saying that it is the responsibility of everyone “to build the Internet we want. Together, we can build a space that is greater and a more important part of the world than anything we have today, but is also safe and secure. I’m committed to seeing this happen, and you can count on Facebook to do our part.”

Facebook user Jules Stoop commented on Zuckerberg’s announcement that “[t]his is the sign of an interesting and also somewhat worrying power shift. Can we indeed trust Facebook (Google, Apple, etc..) to take better care of our privacy than even our democratic government(s)?”

When it comes to governments, both the US and Canadian governments have introduced, or attempted to introduce, bills that would limit the freedom of Internet users. Those policies, including Canadian Bill C-51, have been heavily protested in favour of Internet freedom. The bill is a controversial anti-terrorism act that was introduced in January of 2015. The main provisions of the bill, which many call ‘vague’ and ‘dangerous,’ would set up information sharing between more than 17 federal institutions and provide powers to law enforcement officials that would allow them to label individuals as terror suspects, detain them before any crime has been committed, and ban the “promotion of terrorism,” a vague term that could cover any number of things.

As part of his bid for election, liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would repeal or change the bill. The federal government launched an inquiry late last year.

The internet has become an important and necessary part of people’s lives. Last year, the CRTC declared broadband Internet access a basic service for Canadians, signaling the shift Canadians have made to leading significant portions of their lives online. In 2013, nearly 86 per cent of the Canadian population was online. In the US that number was slightly less, at 84 per cent. Zuckerberg himself has championed free and open access to the Internet for everyone, going so far as to spearhead projects aimed at bringing Internet access to the nearly five billion people on the planet who do not currently have it.

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