Facebook Launches ‘Data Abuse Bounty’ Program To Have Community Help Nab Potential Bad Actors

Eric Lieberman | Tech and Law Reporter

Facebook is launching a data abuse bounty program, meaning it will pay average users who can prove they found any evidence of others misusing the platform for political influence purposes, the company announced Tuesday.

While the tech giant has a pre-existing bug bounty program, a fairly popular cybersecurity mechanism, the new one tailored toward platform manipulation appears to be an arguably novel idea.

“Just like the bug bounty program, we will reward based on the impact of each report,” Collin Green, head of product security at Facebook, wrote in a company blog post. “While there is no maximum, high impact bug reports have garnered as much as $40,000 for people who bring them to our attention.”

It essentially functions as a financial incentive so the community can help the company monitor the platform and expose any people trying to pass off data to “malicious parties.”

But unintended consequences could conceivably transpire in the months to come, as many people will feel empowered and thus potentially over-eager to find bad actors. With all of the clamoring over fake news, hate speech and data manipulation on the platform, there have been several instances of appropriate sleuthing and subsequent takedowns. At the same time — somewhat naturally but perhaps inordinately — there have been many examples of ostensibly appropriate content being removed or restricted. If a data abuse bounty program leads to the same misapplications and misdirected witch-hunts, Facebook will likely be accused even further of bias or unfair treatment.

Nevertheless, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg championed the new feature — which comes on the same day CEO Mark Zuckerberg will address questions from the Senate about data misuse — on her personal social media profile.

“Mark is in D.C. to testify before the U.S. Congress today and tomorrow. This is an important opportunity to speak with policy makers about the steps we’re taking to protect people who use our services,” Sandberg wrote. “Today, we’re announcing another important step — a bounty program that gives people money for information that helps us take action against bad actors. Because it’s a new program, it will change as people use it and give us feedback.”

During his multiple testimonies Tuesday and Wednesday, Zuckerberg will likely talk about the steps his company is taking to address stern concerns of how its platform is exploited or used in a way discordant to his overarching goal to create and connect communities. The bug bounty program seems to have come just in time, as Zuckerberg will probably tout it as an example.

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