Industry News

Facebook, Twitter cut access to mass surveillance tool

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have stopped providing user data access to Geofeedia, a social media monitoring software reportedly used by law enforcement to keep track of activists and other groups of users.

Instagram and Facebook banned visibility over users’ public posts, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of California (ACLU).

The surveillance tool functioned by accessing social networks’ APIs, a stream of public user posts which also included location data.

Facebook provided Geofeedia with access to a feed called the Topic Feed API, designed as a tool for media companies and brands interested in seeing posts that mention a specific topic, including hashtags, events, or specific places.

Twitter, on the other hand, agreed to give searchable access to its database of public tweets and soon after tried to limit the app’s powers, ultimately leading to a cease and desist letter sent this September.

The ACLU learned about the agreements with Geofeedia from responses to public records requests to 63 California law enforcement agencies.

In light of this information, the ACLU expressed concerns over the exposure of minorities, people of color and activists.

Using Geofeedia’s analytics and search capabilities and following the recommendations in their marketing materials, law enforcement in places like Oakland, Denver, and Seattle could easily target neighborhoods where people of color live, monitor hashtags used by activists and allies, or target activist groups as ‘overt threats’,” the ACLU said. “We know for a fact that in Oakland and Baltimore, law enforcement has used Geofeedia to monitor protests.”

The organization also accused the three giants of not supporting free speech, as they claimed to do on several occasions, and have drafted a public letter highlighting the need for restricted user data access for developers, clear and transparent policies and more oversight of potential violations of company policies.

Beyond the agreements with Geofeedia, we are concerned about a lack of robust or properly enforced anti-surveillance policies”, the ACLU added. “Neither Facebook nor Instagram has a public policy specifically prohibiting developers from exploiting user data for surveillance purposes.”

About the author

Alexandra GHEORGHE

Alexandra started writing about IT at the dawn of the decade - when an iPad was an eye-injury patch, we were minus Google+ and we all had Jobs. She has since wielded her background in PR and marketing communications to translate binary code to colorful stories that have been known to wear out readers' mouse scrolls. Alexandra is also a social media enthusiast who 'likes' only what she likes and LOLs only when she laughs out loud.