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Facebook Bars Software Developers from Using social network’s Data to create surveillance tools

police were using location data and other user information to spy on protesters in places such as Ferguson, Missouri.

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FILE - In this May 16, 2012, file photo, the Facebook logo is displayed on an iPad.VOA
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US, March 16, 2017: Facebook barred software developers on Monday from using the massive social network’s data to create surveillance tools, closing off a process that had been exploited by U.S. police departments to track protesters.

Facebook, its Instagram unit and rival Twitter came under fire last year from privacy advocates after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a report that police were using location data and other user information to spy on protesters in places such as Ferguson, Missouri.

In response to the ACLU report, the companies shut off the data access of Geofeedia, a Chicago-based data vendor that said it works with organizations to “leverage social media,” but Facebook policy had not explicitly barred such use of data in the future.

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“Our goal is to make our policy explicit,” Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer, said in a post on the social network on Monday. He was not immediately available for an interview.

The change would help build “a community where people can feel safe making their voices heard,” Sherman said.

Racially charged protests broke out in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in the aftermath of the August 2014 shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.

In a 2015 email message, a Geofeedia employee touted its “great success” covering the protests, according to the ACLU report based on government records.

Representatives of Geofeedia could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. The company has worked with more than 500 law enforcement agencies, the ACLU said.

Geofeedia Chief Executive Officer Phil Harris said in October that the company was committed to privacy and would work to build on civil rights protections.

Major social media platforms including Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube have taken action or implemented policies similar to Facebook’s, said Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

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Ozer praised the companies’ action but said they should have stopped such use of data earlier. “It shouldn’t take a public records request from the ACLU for these companies to know what their developers are doing,” she said.

It was also unclear how the companies would enforce their policies, said Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, a nonprofit that opposes government use of social media for surveillance.

Inside corporations, “is the will there, without constant activist pressure, to enforce these rules?” Cyril said. (VOA)

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Facebook: WhatsApp Business App Has Over 3mn Users

WhatsApp Business app has over 3mn users: Facebook

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WhatsApp Business app has over 3mn users
WhatsApp Business app has over 3mn users. Pixabay

Over 3 million people are actively using WhatsApp Business app, says Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

He said this during the social media giant’s Q1 2018 earnings call, the VentureBeat reported late on Wednesday.

WhatsApp Business, a standalone app separate from the other version of WhatsApp used by 1.5 billion people, was launched in January for Android users in six countries including India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Britain and the US.

WhatsApp Business competes with services like Apple’s Business Chat and RCS messaging for Android and Facebook’s own Messenger Platform, chat apps all built around connecting businesses with customers.

While WhatsApp Business is still being rolled out, conversational commerce through things like payments on Messenger will also be important to the social media giant, the report said.

The Facebook's image.
Facebook. Pixabay

“Over the next five years we’re focused on building out the business ecosystems around our apps like Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger,” Zuckerberg said.

“I think what you’re going to start to see are people interacting with Pages that you follow, Pages on Facebook or Instagram.

“You see content from that Page, and you can click through to a message thread, and then you can either get customer support or complete a transaction or do a follow-on transaction, and that will be very valuable for businesses so we view the payment in that context, not as the goal but as something that’s helping the business and the person succeed at having a transaction or doing what they’re trying to do,” Zuckerberg noted.

Also Read: This creepy app uses WhatsApp data to let users ‘spy’

WhatsApp Business, available on Google Play Store, makes it easier for companies to connect with customers, and more convenient for its users to chat with businesses that matter to them.

The new app, which is yet to come on Apple App Store in India, asks for a separate phone number from the one users have for their individual WhatsApp account.  IANS