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Facebook should guard against revealing private addresses, board recommends

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Show caption Kim Kardashian is said to have been a victim of doxxing – the revealing of private residential addresses and images online. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters Meta Facebook should guard against revealing private addresses, board recommends Oversight Board of Meta recommends exception to privacy rules should be removed Jamie Grierson @JamieGrierson Tue 8 Feb 2022 13.00 GMT Share on Facebook

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Facebook and Instagram should tighten privacy rules to protect against the revealing of private residential addresses and images online, known as doxxing, according to the independent body that decides if content should be on the social media platforms.

The Oversight Board of Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has recommended that an exception to the company’s privacy rules that allows the sharing of private residential information when it is considered “publicly available” should be removed.

Such a move “would help Meta better protect people’s private residential information”, the board said in its “policy advisory opinion” published on Tuesday.

However, the board said Meta should allow the publication of addresses and imagery of official residences provided to high-ranking government officials, such as heads of state to allow the organisation of protests at official residences.

Victims of doxing, include journalists, abortion providers and celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson, Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga.

Among its other recommendations, the board proposes that Meta create a communications channel for victims of doxing and give users more control over how they consent to sharing their private residential information.

The Facebook Privacy Violations policy states that “private information may become publicly available through news coverage, court filings, press releases, or other sources”, so when that happens, Meta may allow the information to be posted.

Currently, Meta’s internal guidance provided to content reviewers states that information “published by at least five news outlets” is no longer private information for the purposes of the Facebook Privacy Violations policy, the Oversight Board revealed.

“Once this information is shared, the harms that can result, such as doxing, are difficult to remedy,” the board added.

“Harms resulting from doxing disproportionately affect groups such as women, children and LGBTQIA+ people, and can include emotional distress, loss of employment and even physical harm or death.”

As a result, the board recommended removing the exception that allows the sharing of private residential information when considered “publicly available.”.

This means Meta would no longer allow otherwise violating content on Facebook and Instagram if it has been “published by at least five news outlets”.

It would also no longer allow content if it contains residential addresses or imagery from financial records or statements of an organisation, court records, professional and business licenses, sex offender registries or press releases from government agencies, or law enforcement, the board added.

However, the board stated that Meta’s “newsworthiness exception” should be consistently applied, which allows content reviewers to escalate for additional review “public interest content” that potentially violates privacy rules but may be eligible for the newsworthiness exception.

The board recommended allowing the sharing of “imagery that displays the external view of private residences” when the property depicted is the focus of the news story but Meta should not allow the sharing of images of private residences when there is a “context of organising protests against the resident”.

The board also said Meta should allow the publication of addresses and imagery of official residences provided to high-ranking government officials, such as heads of state, heads of federal or local government, ambassadors and consuls to allow the organisation of protests at publicly owned official residences.

Meta declined to comment.