ACLU : Social media networks shared data to monitor protesters

“we are committed to creating a community where folks can feel safe making their voices heard”


Facebook has prohibited developers from using information on its platform to help law enforcement agencies monitor protesters during demonstrations. The social media outlet shifted its policies following an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union of California (ACLU) that found how the “data firehouse” Geofeedia used Facebook, Twitter and Instagram data to aid US law enforcement agencies in surveillance of citizens.

Chicago-based Geofeedia provides analysis of social media posts in order to deliver real-time data 500 law enforcement agencies track and respond to crime. All three social media companies cut off Geofeedia’s access recently after the ACLU discovered them and warned of public exposure. Facebook went further by shifting its policies to make it clear it’ll no longer accept such surveillance tactics.

“As we continued to comb through thousands of pages of documents, we saw emails from Geofeedia representatives telling law enforcement about its unique access to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram user data.

Facebook’s Deputy chief privacy officer Rob Sherman asserted in a new statement that the new rules will ensure that developers cannot “use data got from us to supply tools which are used for surveillance”.

He explained: “Our goal is to make our policy explicit. Over the past several months we have taken enforcement action against developers who created and marketed tools meant for surveillance, in violation of our existing policies; we want to be sure everyone understands the underlying policy and how to comply.”

The ACLU claimed that they used public information requests to reveal the extent of the surveillance on social media platforms. The group said that their findings gad uncovered an expanding social medial surveillance program “with little-to-no debate or oversight”.

“In one message, a Geofeedia representative tells police that the company has arrangements with Twitter and Instagram for user data.” The goal of this user data access is generally only provided for commercial use, instead of helping law enforcement agencies.

The ACLU also stated that Geofeedia data was used to “disproportionately impact communities of color”. Police “could easily target neighborhoods where people of color live, monitor hashtags used by activists and allies, or target activist groups as ‘overt threats’”.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were accused of “disconnect” in the area of free speech, promoting and showing solidarity with movements. Mark Zuckerberg is a supporter of groups like Black Lives Matter, yet his media platform allowed Geofeedia to share data with police about legal protests involving such groups.

Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer reacted to the ACLU report by changing its policies and issuing a statement: “we are committed to creating a community where folks can feel safe making their voices heard”.