According to a new study published by the American Civil Liberties Union, major social networks including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have recently provided user data access to Geofeedia, the location-based, social media surveillance system used by government offices, private security firms, marketers and others.
The ACLU’s report says that law enforcement has been using Geofeedia to monitor activists and protesters of color. Police departments in Seattle, Denver, Dallas, and Baltimore have all used it. The Denver Police Departement provided documents to the Associated Press, showing it spend $30.000 for a one-year subscription to Geofeedia. The department could be in violation of a 2003 agreement regarding spying on city residents.
Geofeedia is a startup with offices in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Naples. It specializes in pinpointing social media data based on geographic locations. The company provides a platform that lets its clients monitor social media posts and other data tied to a particular location. In February, the company said it had more than 500 customers, including media entities, corporate operations, marketing and organizations in the public sector.
Chief Executive Officer for Geofeedia, Phil Harris said the company was committed to the principles of personal privacy, transparency and individual rights, with clear policies to prevent the inappropriate use of its software. Gathering public information like this is a gray area – it’s legal, but some say there should be clear limits on how police can use it.