In the wake of its Oversight Board recommendation that the social networking service remove an exception that allows its users to share a person’s residential address as long as it is available, Meta Inc in an updated post has aligned with the recommendation.
The Oversight Board had been tasked by Meta to weigh in on its handling of private residential information with the Board on February on February issuing a response, advising Meta to tighten its policies as it surrounds private home address sharing in the wake of doxing concerns.
Doxing, the act of revealing a person’s name, phone number, email address, or home address online with the purpose of waging a harassment campaign against them, is seen by many human right fighters across the globe as very precarious to the safety of the average internet user.
Meta’s platforms, Facebook and Instagram may have already had in rules barring users from sharing home address but the platforms were seen not to take action on posts that contains “publicly available addresses” and by Meta’s standards, this connotes that any addresses that have been published in five or more news outlets have been made available in public records and the company has now said it will end this exception “by the end of the year.”
“As the board notes in this recommendation, removing the exception for ‘publicly available’ private residential information may limit the availability of this information on Facebook and Instagram when it is still publicly available elsewhere,” Meta writes. “However, we recognize that implementing this recommendation can strengthen privacy protections on our platforms.”
Meta will also look to change its response to posts that included photos of the outside of private homes, with the Mark Zuckerberg-founded company inferring that it won’t take action if “the property depicted is the focus of a news story,” unless it’s “shared in the context of organizing protests against the resident.”
The social giant will also permit users to share the outside appearances of publicly-owned residencies belonging to “high ranking officials,” like heads of state or ambassadors, and will, conversely, allow users to organize protests at these locations. But the company while asserting that it will continue to let users post their own addresses, it noted that it won’t follow the Board’s recommendation to let other users reshare them, premising its decision on the argument that it’s “often impossible to know whether a resident has consented to allowing another person to share their private address.”
Meta Inc, a company that has over the years been subjected to public scrutiny over privacy violations, has with the new change, did not fully commit to implementing tools that make it easier for users to report a privacy violation, as it is assessing the feasibility of the Board’s recommendation to simplify the process of requesting the removal of private information on Facebook and Instagram.
The Facebook parent company says it would be testing a way to make the “Privacy Violation” reporting option easier to find, and instead of users having to click through two menus and searching for the specific option, it will test making the option more “prominent.”
The Oversight Board launched in 2020, had suggested the creation of a “specific channel” to handle reports of doxing as well, but Meta did not to take action, with the company replying by saying it’s “actively building new channels for users to get support,” and that it already partners with over 850 organizations victims can contact to get help, like the Revenge Porn Helpline in the UK and the National Network to End Domestic Violence in the US.
The planned policy changes by Meta should ideally add an additional layer of protection for victims of doxing but it remains to be seen if the company will add that to its list of priorities.