Meta’s Oversight Board urges Facebook and Instagram to tighten doxing rules

Meta’s external advisory organization issued new recommendations Tuesday, urging the company to bolster its policies that protect users against doxing.

Facebook requested advice on the policy last year, acknowledging that it had difficulty balancing access to public information with privacy concerns. The company now known as Meta’s current policy on sharing private identifying details carves out an exception for cases when that information becomes “publicly available:”

We remove content that shares, offers or solicits personally identifiable information or other private information that could lead to physical or financial harm, including financial, residential, and medical information, as well as private information obtained from illegal sources. We also recognize that private information may become publicly available through news coverage, court filings, press releases, or other sources. When that happens, we may allow the information to be posted.

Citing how this kind of harm can be “difficult to remedy” — i.e. once someone’s address is out in the wild it’s impossible to put that cat back in the bag — the Oversight Board recommended that Meta remove the exception in its Privacy Violations Policy allowing “publicly available” home addresses and identifying images. The new rules would be “more protective of privacy” according to the board, in light of the unique risks that erring on the side of too little caution poses.

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

The board’s recommendations would create a few common sense exceptions, like in the case of sharing an image of a residence that is the focus of a news story or when someone shares a picture of their own home. The group still advises Meta disallow images of private addresses shared for the purposes of organizing protests.

The Board also argues that Meta should allow residential imagery to be shared if a protest is being organized at “official residences provided to high-ranking government officials” like federal and local government leaders and ambassadors, otherwise an event planning to demonstrate at a location like the White House might run afoul of the rules.