Social media monitoring program Geofeedia helped police track protests
In a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, Geofeedia has been accused of helping law enforcement target minorities.
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA — A social media monitoring program that has been boasting its surveillance feature for law enforcement has had its access to social media data limited following a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
According to the report, the program, Geofeedia, is being used by police around the country to target minorities without public knowledge.
Primarily focused on providing data about rallies and protests, Geofeedia has given location-based information to law enforcement who have subscribed to its services. The problem is most of the law enforcement agencies have not told the public about its use of Geofeedia for surveillance, which has led to what the ACLU believes is an “utter lack of transparency, accountability and oversight.”
Furthermore, the ACLU believes that the use of Geofeedia has been biased.
“Our records show that Geofeedia’s marketing materials, for instance, refer to unions and activist groups as ‘overt threats,’ and suggest the product can be used in ways that target activists of color,” the ACLU of Northern California reported.
The ACLU of Northern California obtained emails between Geofeedia and local authorities, in which the Geofeedia representative wrote in one instance of using the program to monitor the “Ferguson situation,” and in another instance of “stay[ing] ahead of rioters.”
The program relies on API provided by social media sites including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Based on information made public by users, the social networks provided feeds that allowed Geofeedia to tap into user’s locations and activities.
When a user publishes a public post on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and provides their location, Geofeedia was able to access those posts and provide its content to its subscribers.
Geofeedia’s subscribers can search for social media posts by location by inputting an address or drawing parameters on a map. Subscribers can further narrow their search results by including key terms or phrases.
Neither Facebook nor Instagram has a public policy specifically prohibiting developers from exploiting user data for surveillance purposes. Facebook’s platform policy prohibits the selling, transfer and sublicense of its codes, APis or tools. And developers are not permitted to put Facebook data into any search engines or directories without the social network’s explicit permission.
Twitter prohibits the sale of user data for surveillance as well as a Developer Policy that bans the use of Twitter data “to investigate, track or surveil Twitter users.”
Following the release of ACLU’s report, Instagram cut off Geofeedia’s access to public user posts, and Facebook has cut its access to a topic-based feed of public user posts. Twitter suspended Geofeedia’s commercial access to data.
Social monitoring program Geofeedia is being used by law enforcement across the country. FACEBOOK / GEOFEEDIA
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the program helped police target minorities. FACEBOOK / GEOFEEDIA
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