Report: Police Monitored Protesters With Social Media Analytics

By Features PCmag

Law enforcement officials used analytics software to surveil Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram users, according to a report from the ACLU this week.

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Police in Baltimore and Oakland, Calif., used analytics and search tools from Geofeedia to monitor protests, the report claims. The ACLU, which learned about the monitoring through requests of California public records, said the social media companies curtailed Geofeedia's access after it presented the findings.

Following the report, Instagram disabled Geofeedia's access to public user posts, and Facebook has cut its access to a topic-based feed of public user posts, the ACLU wrote in a blog post. Twitter said it also suspended the company's access to its platform, according to a tweet on Tuesday.

"The ACLU shouldn't have to tell Facebook or Twitter what their own developers are doing," an ACLU policy director in California said in a statement to the Washington Post. "The companies need to enact strong public policies and robust auditing procedures to ensure their platforms aren't being used for discriminatory surveillance."

Geofeedia claimed it has more than 500 law enforcement and public safety clients in an email obtained by the ACLU as part of its public records requests. On its website, the company advertises that its "patented, location-based analytics platform" allows clients to "predict, analyze and act on real-time social media."

The ACLU says it has proof that Oakland and Baltimore law enforcement used Geofeedia's analytics to spy on protesters.

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In a statement to the Post, Geofeedia CEO Phil Harris said his company is committed to "personal privacy, transparency and both the letter and the spirit of the law when it comes to individual rights."

He said that Geofeedia tries to prevent its clients from identifying individuals based on race, ethnicity, religious, sexual orientation, though he admitted that "we must continue to work to build on these critical protections of civil rights."

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