Daily Management Review

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram helped the US government track protesters


During the last five years, analyst firm Geofeedia has had access to information about users of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. All this time, the company has sold obtained information to the US authorities. Those, in turn, used the data to track down members of mass protests, or caught those who just wanted to take to the streets. All this became known from the report released on Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had previously turned to social networks with a request to stop cooperating with Geofeedia. The companies satisfied the request.

Veggies via wikimedia
Veggies via wikimedia
The American Civil Liberties Union released a report which states that the largest US social networks Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for several years have provided Geofeedia with access to users information. The company, in turn, sold this information to the authorities. The latter used the information to track participants of mass protests. By the time of the report’s publication, all three social networks have ceased cooperation with Geofeedia, responding to  request of human rights defenders.

As follows from the document, the authorities used the obtained information during the unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore. As soon as the protests became widespread, the police started to actively monitor social networks in real time, while checking accounts with photos to match with its own database of individuals who already committed an offense. Apart from the posts on Facebook or Twitter, police received geolocation data of users. As an example, Human Rights Watch cites a case in Baltimore. There, police detained students who have left in the middle of the school day to join the protesters. According to testimony of Sergeant Andrew Vaccaro, the police found stones and bottles in their backpacks later.

Nevertheless, these data have been received by the authorities illegally. The fact is that conditions of Facebook and Twitter’s agreement very clearly stated that sale, transfer or distribution of information about users of these social networks was prohibited, at least without permission of the social networks themselves. However, Geofeedia in correspondence with law enforcement has repeatedly said there was a consensus with both Facebook and Twitter. It is unknown whether it’s true, but in September all three social networks have decided to stop any cooperation with Geofeedia, and blocked access to user data. 

In May this year, microblogging service Twitter blocked access for the US intelligence to Dataminr service, which analyses information from microblogs. This information was confirmed by a senior American intelligence officer, as well as other persons familiar with the situation. Dataminr examines everything published in Twitter in real-time, including tags and geo traffic. The obtained information is sold. Using analyzed tweets, the service composes news about various events and incidents, including terrorist attacks, political unrest, and so on. Dataminr company is private, 5% of it belongs to Twitter. According to The Wall Street Journal, Dataminr’s management told US intelligence agencies that Twitter does not want the company to continue to provide services to them.

source: businessinsider.com, wsj.com