Facebook is cutting police departments off from a vast trove of data that has been increasingly used to monitor protesters and activists, the Washington Post reports. The move, which the social network announced yesterday, comes amid concerns over law enforcement’s tracking of protesters’ social media accounts in places such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore. It also comes at a time when chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says he is expanding the company’s mission from merely “connecting the world” into friend networks to promoting safety and community. Although the social network’s core business is advertising, Facebook, along with Twitter and Facebook-owned Instagram, also provides developers access to users’ public feeds. The developers use the data to monitor trends and public events.
The social networks have come under fire for working with third parties who market the data to law enforcement. Last year, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter cut off access to Geofeedia, a start-up that shared data with law enforcement, in response to an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union. Yesterday, Facebook updated its instructions for developers to say that they cannot “use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance.” The company also said, in an accompanying blog post, that it had kicked other developers off the platform since it cut ties with Geofeedia. Until now, Facebook hasn’t been explicit about who can use information that users post publicly. This can include a person’s friend list, location, birthday, profile picture, education history, relationship status and political affiliation — if they make their profile or certain posts public. Police and federal agencies may still siphon people’s feeds in cases of national disasters and emergencies, Facebook officials said. It was unclear how Facebook would decide which emergencies and public events would warrant monitoring citizens’ data and which would constitute unreasonable “surveillance.”