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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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Social Media in India: Understanding The Dynamics of ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’

Social media, a double-edged sword, is an evolving forum of communication in the internet media

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India has world’s largest number of Facebook Users with over 195 million users, overtaking US by over 4 million subscribers. Pixabay

Social media is a strange place that connects millions of people worldwide. It is a platform that keeps people engaged in several trending issues. However, the point of concern being, how do they react? This makes social media a double-edged sword.

Let’s take an example. Once, a photo of a young schoolboy from a poor family went viral. The boy was sitting outside a Noida metro station, trying to earn money through a weighing scale and studying at the same time. He caught the attention of one of the commuters. A picture was taken and uploaded on Facebook. The picture went viral. Now, there were several people who came forward to help. One of them was the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav, who promised to ensure full opportunity for them to study without having to work.

ALSO READ: Social Media: Here is how it is creating Lifestyle pressure on Youth!

social media
Twitter, the microblogging site has 23.2 million Monthly Active Users in India, which is 2nd largest in Asia-Pacific after Japan with 26 million MUAs. Pixabay

This was one example or the so-called ‘positive side’ of social media. Now let’s turn the page and look at the other side of the road. Here the ‘other-type’ instances on social media:

  • In 2012, morphed pictures and videos of earthquake victims went viral. The morphed images were aimed to show that these were Muslim victims of civil riots in Assam and Burma. This was done to provoke riots by vested interests.
  • There were instances of hate and revenge messages being spread against Hindu migrants living in South India. This resulted in a mass exodus of people from the North East.
  • At an individual level, there are many examples where when a relationship went sour, one of the partners uploaded intimate pictures, videos or information, in revenge against their former partner.
  • Another point of concern is the easy access to all types of porn by minors. This is resulting in rapidly changing social behaviour and redefining morality.

The major problem being stated is that the society as a larger whole is unable to keep pace and social media is, hence, increasing the gap between older and younger generations rather than bringing them closer.

social media
There are over 30 Million LinkedIn Users in India, while 467 million users globally. Pixabay

ALSO READ: Teenagers using Social Media more likely to suffer sleep deprivations: Study

Should there be government intervention in the use of social media?

India is witnessing increasing internet and mobile penetration. With first-time users onto these platforms, the risk of mass hysteria or communal reactions increases. It is imperative for the government to get together all stakeholders of civil society and try and address the issue of balancing media freedom with media regulation.

Putting regulations or any type of curbs on the internet will be a sensitive subject in any type of free society and of course, it will result in certain opposition. However, what we need to understand is, each society is different. Therefore, every society has to develop its own mechanism to address the negative consequences of social media.

social media
There are 16 Million Instagram users in India. Pixabay

For example, the Indian government had blocked internet services in the state of Jammu and Kashmir during the period of eid in 2015. It was a preventive measure. However, despite the ban, there were clashes with the police and violence. The point of concern being, the situation could have been much worse had the internet and social media been accessible.

With the world getting increasingly connected through the web and India on the cusp of a ‘Digital’ revolution, the government must take up establishing clear cybersecurity laws and cyber management policies on an urgent basis. Social media could work as a development catalyst or could become a national threat.