Police departments in two cities have used analytics software to spy on users of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, according to an ACLU report.
The Baltimore and Oakland, Calif. police services used data collected by Geofeedia from the three social networks to monitor the activities of activists and protesters, California public records requested by the ACLU have revealed.
After revealing its findings to three social media companies, Instagram cut off Geofeedia’s access to public user posts, while Facebook eliminated its access to a topic-based feed of public user posts.
The ACLU said that while Twitter has also taken some steps to “rein in” Geofeedia, the microblogging firm has yet to end the data relationship the two share.
“Further steps are required if these companies are to live up to their principles and policies by protecting users of all backgrounds engaging in political and social discourse,” the ACLU wrote in a blog post. “So today the ACLU of California, the Center for Media Justice, and Color of Change are calling on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to commit to concrete changes to better protect users going forward.”
Geofeedia, it seems, actively targeted police services as clients, dangling juicy social media data in front of their noses.
The ACLU posted e-mails sent by Geofeedia to police detectives. The messages can be seen here.
The ACLU is calling on social platforms to crack down on surreptitious surveillance.
“Social media monitoring is spreading fast and is a powerful example of surveillance technology that can disproportionately impact communities of color,” the ACLU said. “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, in letters to each of the companies, asked for the following:
“The government should not have preferred access to social media speech for surveillance purposes,” the ACLU added. “We are confident the companies agree. Facebook and Instagram have already cut off access to Geofeedia and Twitter should do the same. It’s also time for all three of the companies to live up to their words by taking the additional concrete steps outlined in our letters.”