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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

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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Instagram to Now Ask New Users to Provide Their Birthdate

Users will soon be able to restrict new messages from only people and groups they follow. The feature will arrive in the coming weeks

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Instagram app logo is displayed on a mobile screen in Los Angeles. VOA

Facebook-owned photo-sharing platform Instagram will now ask new users for their date of birth when an account is created.

Previously, Instagram users were required to confirm they were ages 13 or older when signing up, but they didn’t have to provide an exact birthday.

The new addition is Instagram’s attempt to better protect young users and provide a ‘more age-appropriate experience overall’.

“According to our Terms of Use, you must be at least 13-years old to have an account in most countries. Asking for this information will help prevent underage people from joining Instagram, help us keep young people safer and enable more age-appropriate experiences overall. Your birthday will not be visible to others on Instagram, but you’ll be able to see it when viewing your own private account information,” the company said a statement on Wednesday.

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Facebook, Messenger and Instagram apps are displayed on an iPhone, March 13, 2019, in New York. VOA

The firm noted that it will pull birthdates from Facebook for user’s who have connected their profile and editing your birth date on Facebook will do the same on Instagram.

For those who do not have a Facebook account, they can add or edit their date of birth directly on Instagram.

Also Read: TikTok Prevents Disabled Users’ Videos From Going Viral: Report

Additionally, Instagram is also preparing a new feature to prevent strangers from sliding into your direct messages.

Users will soon be able to restrict new messages from only people and groups they follow. The feature will arrive in the coming weeks. (IANS)