Social media firms face scrutiny over ‘secretive’ surveillance of US citizens
The heads of social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google have joined an administration review of how their companies handle the surveillance of their users, amid growing concern over a new law that would allow government agencies to share information about users’ activities with each other.
The review, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, could lead to more transparency and oversight of government agencies that oversee the platforms.
“The public deserves to know how government agencies are using technology to collect and store data,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a statement.
The law would require companies like Facebook, which has about 2.7 billion monthly active users worldwide, to disclose data about users to government officials.
It also would require the companies to publish information about their usage of data analytics tools, such as facial recognition, to the government.
In a statement Thursday, Facebook said it would release information about data it collects to the NSA and other federal agencies in coming weeks, and would “continue to work closely with lawmakers and the White House to make sure that all information collected by the government is used appropriately and in a manner that protects civil liberties and civil liberties.”
Facebook said in January that it had been the target of a massive surveillance program by the National Security Agency, which uses facial recognition technology to scan people’s faces and then uses that information to identify the people who visit their pages.
Facebook is also a frequent target of government surveillance because of how the social media platform operates.
Wyden and other critics of the NSA have called for Facebook to turn over the location data collected by NSA programs.
Facebook, Google and other tech companies said the government’s request for that data violated their privacy commitments.
“I believe we need to know exactly how our data is being used, and I believe we can only do that if we know who has access to the data and how the information is being shared,” said Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Facebook said Thursday that it has not received any requests for data.
Sandberg said in her statement that the company “will continue to work with lawmakers on this issue, and we look forward to working with the White Houses on these issues.”
Twitter also said it has no plans to disclose any of its users’ data to the federal government.
“We will continue to be open to discussing our practices with lawmakers, and the American people, about what is in our data and why we collect it,” Twitter’s chief privacy officer, John Sullivan, said in an emailed statement.
Facebook declined to say whether it had shared users’ location data with the NSA.
In February, Facebook and Twitter revealed that they had been tracking the location of a user from their own devices and sharing that data with other companies, including the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA.
Facebook has been under scrutiny for not disclosing the information to the public.
Twitter has also been under investigation by the Justice Department for not sharing users’ private data with law enforcement agencies.