October 14, 2016 by

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram Delivered Data Access to a Surveillance Tool Developer

Data from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Picasa were being harvested by a Chicago startup via a social media monitoring tool, which was then sold to law enforcement agencies for surveillance, a report has revealed.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has revealed that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are just a few of the major social media platforms that provided data access to Geofeedia, the developer of a social media monitoring tool.

This data was then marketed and sold to law enforcement agencies, as a surveillance product to monitor activists and protestors of color, the ACLU revealed, through records it obtained.

Notably, the ACLU adds that Instagram has cut off Geofeedia’s access to public user posts after being informed of ACLU’s findings. Facebook has cut Geofeedia’s access to a topic-based feed of public user posts. Twitter has also taken steps to put roadblocks for Geofeedia’s access, although a data relationship still exists.

To ensure users know what technology companies are protecting users of all color and backgrounds, ACLU, the Center for Media Justice and Color of Change openly called on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to commit to enforcing concrete changes to safeguard its users. Multiple letters were revealed by the ACLU, on this regard.

An excerpt from ACLU’s revelation read:

We first learned about these agreements with Geofeedia from responses to public records requests to 63 California law enforcement agencies. These records revealed the fast expansion of social media surveillance with little-to-no debate or oversight.

As the civil liberties advocacy group dug further through “thousands of pages of documents” it discovered emails from Geofeedia representatives telling law enforcement agencies about its special access to social media platforms’ data, particularly Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Geofeedia was in a unique position to access data to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as a developer, allowing it to scrape user data by simply accessing the flow of data that a developer routinely does. This was an automated process and unsurprisingly, against the terms of service of the social media platforms.

The ACLU added:

With this special access, Geofeedia could quickly access public user content and make it available to the 500 law enforcement and public safety clients claimed by the company.

After ACLU’s published report on the doings of Geofeedia, Twitter announced the following day that it would be “immediately suspending Geofeedia’s commercial access to Twitter data.”

Image credit: Pixabay.

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LIFARS is a digital forensics and cybersecurity intelligence firm based in New York City. LIFARS is ranked as one of the top Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigations companies in 2016 and as one of the top cybersecurity companies in the New York metropolitan area for 2015 on the Cybersecurity 500 – a directory of the hottest and most innovative companies to watch in the cybersecurity industry.

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