WASHINGTON (UPI) — Police have been analyzing user information from social media networks to track protesters, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU found the company Geofeedia has been collecting and analyzing user data from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for police, including agencies in Ferguson and Baltimore during protests over the improper use of force by police officers.
Both Facebook and Twitter cut the developer’s access to data streams from the social media networks after discovering Geofeedia was providing user data to more than 500 law enforcement agencies, which they consider a violation of their contracts with the company.
“Because Geofeedia obtained this access to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as a developer, it could access a flow of data that would otherwise require an individual to ‘scrape’ user data off of the services in an automated fashion that is prohibited by the terms of service,” ACLU public attorney Matt Cagle said in a blog post. “With this special access, Geofeedia could quickly access public user content and make it available to the 500 law enforcement and public safety clients claimed by the company.”
In addition to analyzing the public stream of user posts on Instagram using the developer API, Geofeedia signed a deal with Facebook to access the Topic Feed API on the social network. Access to the Topic Feed API allowed the company to gain a ranked feed of public Facebook posts that mention topics, hashtags, events or specific locations.
Twitter did not provide full access to its “firehose” of tweets and user data but gave Geofeedia access to a searchable database of public tweets.
Facebook terminated Geofeedia’s access to its network in September.
Twitter attempted to modify its contract with the company to no avail, eventually sending them a cease and desist letter. After Cagle’s blog post was published on the ACLU website, Twitter announced it had terminated the company’s access to its database.