Social Media Companies Provide User Data That Ends Up In Law Enforcement’s Hands

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are being criticized for giving users’ personal information to a company that supplies data to law enforcement.

The tech corporations provided access to people’s data (specifically location) to Geofeedia, which is a developer and purveyor of a social media monitoring product. Geofeedia markets it services to police departments and other authorities as a tool that can surveil users of social media, reports the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“We currently work with over 500 law enforcement and public safety agencies,” Geofeedia claimed, according to documents obtained by the ACLU of California.

The agencies are using the technology to track the activities and location of activists and protesters.

“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 explains.

Law enforcement see such technology and its functionality as a vital tool to help stave off crime.

“You are able to see real-time potential threats being made to an event,” William Mitchell, Denver police lieutenant, told the Chicago Tribune. “It has the ability to identify criminal suspects and their actions as they post them to social media.”

Mitchell stated the program helped investigators in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, and also assisted police in finding a woman who made ominous threats on social media around the time of the Super Bowl.

Along with its many partnerships with police, Geofeedia boasts its extensive relationships with social media companies and its advanced capabilities.

“Ability to access social media data in perpetuity,” the document reads. “Gather 10x more Instagram Data due to our partnership with Instagram. We are the only social media monitoring tool to have partnership with Instagram,” the description continues.

“We recently entered a confidential legally binding agreement with Facebook,” a separate email from May reads. “Over time, Facebook will be reactivating more and more data to Geofeedia through our partnership.”

After the ACLU reported to the aforementioned companies that Geofeedia was selling its services to law enforcement, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter limited their business relationship with Geofeedia to varying degrees.

“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,” the ACLU’s press release reads.

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