Firm linked to social media surveillance loses data access
Washington (AFP) – Twitter and Facebook on Tuesday cut access to certain data for an analytics firm which according to a civil liberties group helped law enforcement track protesters in social movements.
The announcements came after the American Civil Liberties Union reported that the analytics firm Geofeedia had been marketing its services to local police agencies to help track activists using social media posts and location data.
According to internal documents published by the ACLU, Geofeedia boasted that it “covered Ferguson/Mike Brown nationally with great success,” referring to the wave of protests in the Missouri community after the police shooting of an unarmed African-American man.
“The ACLU of California has obtained records showing that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram provided user data access to Geofeedia, a developer of a social media monitoring product that we have seen marketed to law enforcement as a tool to monitor activists and protesters,” the civil liberties group said in a statement.
“We know for a fact that in Oakland (California) and Baltimore (Maryland), law enforcement has used Geofeedia to monitor protests.”
The ACLU documents showed Geofeedia claimed to have access to the Twitter “firehose” or full stream of data which can be analyzed and interpreted by location and other factors.
It also said Geofeedia claimed to be “the only social media monitoring firm to have (a) partnership with Instagram.”
Shortly after the ACLU announcement, Twitter said it was cutting off access.
“Based on information in the @ACLU’s report, we are immediately suspending @Geofeedia’s commercial access to Twitter data,” a Twitter Policy tweet said.
Facebook, which also owns Instagram, said it cut off Geofeedia from access to its “developer” platform after learning the firm violated terms of service for using its API, or application program interface.
“If a developer uses our APIs in a way that has not been authorized, we will take swift action to stop them and we will end our relationship altogether if necessary,” a Facebook spokesman said in an email to AFP.
The ACLU called on the social networks to take “further steps” to “live up to their principles and policies by protecting users of all backgrounds engaging in political and social discourse.”
No immediate comment was available from Geofeedia, which according to its website offers services for public safety, education, marketing and corporate security.
“Our patented, cloud-based, location-based intelligence platform lets you predict, analyze and act on real-time social media content by location from anywhere in the world — with a single click,” Geofeedia says on its site.