Facebook says birthday fundraisers have raised more than $300 million over the past year

Facebook marked the first anniversary of its birthday fundraisers by revealing that more than $300 million in donations have been raised through the feature, which lets users mark their birthdays by creating a donation drive for an organization of their choice. About 750,000 non-profits currently have access to Facebook’s fundraising tools (but not every user, since they haven’t rolled out to all countries).

The company also said that it is adding several new features based on feedback. These include allowing Pages to create and donate to fundraisers, as well as the ability to add matching donations and co-organizers to fundraisers. Donors will also be able to choose if they want to set up a recurring monthly contribution.

For people who want to create a birthday fundraiser but don’t have an organization in mind already, Facebook plans to include more information about charities in the feature’s selection tool. The company said its fundraising feature’s top beneficiaries include St. Jude, the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Cancer Society, Share Our Strength—No Kid Hungry and the ASPCA.

Last November, Facebook removed its 5% fee on donations, which means all money goes to non-profits. For many charities, Facebook fundraisers are now the most frictionless way to raise donations, including from people who might otherwise never visit the charity’s own donation links. Facebook fundraisers are a notable example of how social media activism can actually translate into tangible results instead of yet more memes–but, of course, whenever Facebook releases any self-congratulatory announcements, it’s a good idea to take a step back and look at the potential downsides.

As with almost every other Facebook feature, its fundraising tools have prompted concerns about privacy, particularly donor privacy, which is considered sacrosanct by many organizations (Facebook lets users decide if they want to share their donation with friends). Some charities also have qualms about benefiting from Facebook fundraisers until the company does a better job of policing hate speech, especially if the purpose of their work is aiding marginalized or persecuted minority groups.

In an insightful blog post from last November, fundraising consultant Jeremy Hatch argued that fundraising on Facebook also eliminates the relationship between donors and organizations, “where there are established norms and ethical practices.” He added that non-profits should reconsider before they grow increasingly reliant on a company whose ultimate goal is to gather and monetize user data.

At the same time, Facebook’s reach leaves many organizations with little choice but to use the platform so they don’t miss out on much-needed funds. One notable example of how effective Facebook fundraisers can be is the more than $20 million raised by users on behalf of RAICES to help migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border by the Trump administration.

A huge spreadsheet naming ICE employees gets yanked from GitHub and Medium

A massive database of current U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees scraped from public LinkedIn profiles has been removed from the tech platforms hosting the data. The project was undertaken by Sam Lavigne, self-described artist, programmer and researcher in response to recent revelations around ICE’s detention practices at the southern U.S. border.

Lavigne posted the database to GitHub on Tuesday and by Wednesday the repository had been removed. The database included the name, profile photo, title and city area of every ICE employee who listed the agency as their employer on the professional networking site. A more in-depth version of the data pulled all public LinkedIn data from the pool of users, including previous employment, education history and any other information those users opted to make public. The total database lists this information for 1,595 ICE employees, from the company’s CTO on down to low-level workers.

The project accompanied a Medium post about the project’s aims that has since been removed by the platform:

While I don’t have a precise idea of what should be done with this data set, I leave it here with the hope that researchers, journalists and activists will find it useful…

I find it helpful to remember that as much as internet companies use data to spy on and exploit their users, we can at times reverse the story, and leverage those very same online platforms as a means to investigate or even undermine entrenched power structures. It’s a strange side effect of our reliance on private companies and semi-public platforms to mediate nearly all aspects of our lives.

The data set appears to have violated GitHub and Medium guidelines against doxing. Medium’s anti-harassment policy specifically forbids doxing and defines it broadly, preventing “the aggregation of publicly available information to target, shame, blackmail, harass, intimidate, threaten, or endanger.”

Because it doesn’t include personal identifying information like home addresses, phone numbers or other non-public details, Lavigne’s project isn’t really doxing in the normal sense of the word, though that hasn’t made it less controversial.

GitHub’s own policy leading to the data’s removal is less clear, though the company told The Verge the repository was removed due to “doxxing and harassment.” The platform’s terms of service forbid uses of GitHub that “violate the privacy of any third party, such as by posting another person’s personal information without consent.” This leaves some room for interpretation, and it is not clear that data from a public-facing social media profile is “personal” under this definition. GitHub allows researchers to scrape data from external sites in order to aggregate it “only if any publications resulting from that research are open access.”

While Lavigne’s aggregation efforts were deemed off-limits by some tech platforms, they do raise compelling questions. What kinds of public data, in aggregate, run afoul of anti-harassment rules? Why can this kind of data be scraped for the purposes of targeted advertising or surveillance by law enforcement but not be collected in a user-facing way? The ICE database raised these questions and plenty more, but for some tech companies the question of hosting the data proved too provocative from the start.