Facebook is sharing users' WhatsApp and Instagram data to catch terrorists

The company described the controversial tactic as 'indispensable'

Aatif Sulleyman
Thursday 27 July 2017 11:19 BST
The company hasn’t yet specified which 'limited data' is being shared and how it is being used
The company hasn’t yet specified which 'limited data' is being shared and how it is being used (Getty)

Facebook has revealed it is sharing Instagram and WhatsApp users’ data.

The company has published a blog post detailing some of the ways in which it plans to keep content related to terrorism off the site.

However, one of the tactics is likely to prove highly controversial.

Facebook says one of its current focuses is “cross-platform collaboration”, where it also collects and analyses users’ data from Instagram and WhatsApp – two extremely popular services that are owned by Facebook.

“Because we don’t want terrorists to have a place anywhere in the family of Facebook apps, we have begun work on systems to enable us to take action against terrorist accounts across all our platforms, including WhatsApp and Instagram,” wrote Monika Bickert, Facebook’s director of global policy management, and Brian Fishman, the site’s counterterrorism policy manager.

“Given the limited data some of our apps collect as part of their service, the ability to share data across the whole family is indispensable to our efforts to keep all our platforms safe.”

The blog post doesn't specify which “limited data” is being shared and how it is being used, but it adds that Facebook is using artificial intelligence to understand language and recognise images.

“We need more transparency about how Facebook plans to share data across its platforms," Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, told The Independent.

“Given the previous controversy about data sharing between Facebook and WhatsApp, we hope the company is working with data protection authorities to ensure that this is limited to what is absolutely necessary.”

We’ve asked Facebook for more information, and will update this piece if the company responds.

WhatsApp conversations are protected by end-to-end encryption, which has come under heavy fire from the government, despite being crucial for protecting people and important systems from criminals.

“We know that terrorists sometimes use encrypted messaging to communicate,” the Facebook post continues.

“Because of the way end-to-end encryption works, we can’t read the contents of individual encrypted messages — but we do provide the information we can in response to valid law enforcement requests, consistent with applicable law and our policies.”

Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 and, despite initially claiming it would keep user information for the two services separate, announced controversial data-sharing plans last year.

These were suspended in November, and the European Commission said Facebook “intentionally or negligently” submitted “misleading information” ahead of its WhatsApp takeover.

However, the company maintains it did nothing wrong.

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