Facebook tells Los Angeles police to stop using fake profiles to conduct surveillance on users

Facebook wrote to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), demanding that it stop setting up fake profiles to conduct surveillance on users.

Facebook expressly prohibits the creation and use of fake accounts.

The intent, it said, was to “create a safe environment where people can trust and hold one another accountable”.

“Not only do LAPD instructional documents use Facebook as an explicit example in advising officers to set up fake social media accounts, but documents also indicate that LAPD policies simply allow officers to create fake accounts for ‘online investigative activity’,” wrote Facebook’s vice president and deputy general counsel for civil rights Roy Austin in a letter outlining Facebook’s policies.

“While the legitimacy of such policies may be up to the LAPD, officers must abide by Facebook’s policies when creating accounts on our services. The Police Department should cease all activities on Facebook that involve the use of fake accounts, impersonation of others, and collection of data for surveillance purposes.”

Documents obtained through public record requests made by non-profit organisation the Brennan Center of Justice showed that in 2019, the LAPD had been using Voyager Labs’ social media surveillance software to collect data from suspects’ social media networks, including their friends’ accounts.

Voyager Labs claims its software is able to analyse large amounts data to help solve crimes, including helping to discern users’ motives and beliefs.

The LAPD said in emails that the software had been particularly useful in investigating the activities of street gangs online and crucial in helping its robbery and homicide division collect evidence.