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ACLU Criticizes Social Media for Allowing Access to Content

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

An article this week in The New York Times Police Use Surveillance Tool to Scan Social Media about Chicago company Geofeedia’s use of text, photos and videos from social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to aid in law enforcement sparks controversy about law enforcement vs. civil liberties.

The use of location technology to solve crimes is nothing new. The use of social media content in a specific location is relatively new, and a potent resource for law enforcement.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing, or is it, like all new technologies, fraught with the potential for misuse as well as for the common good? It is sort of like the case of the hammer: you can use it to build a house, or to hit someone over the head with it.

We have covered Geofeedia quite extensively in GISCafe news, for use in retail, public safety, disaster response and law enforcement etc. Additional uses for Geofeedia services remain to be seen, but it may be extremely helpful for averting violence at certain events.

Geofeedia Ads Leverages Location Data

Within Seconds, Geofeedia Customers Can Take Action on Data

It is really a case of, we have the technology, so how do we use it to its best advantage without damaging civil liberties of the individual?

Geofeedia’s tool allows users to search for social media content in a specific location, as opposed to searching by words or hashtags that would be less likely to identify an exact location.

Over 500 law enforcement agencies have signed up for Geofeedia’s solutions, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The company shows how Baltimore officials were able to track and respond to violent protests that broke out after Freddie Gray died in police custody in April 2015, using their tool.

The ACLU reports says that Geofeedia has used programs freely offered by social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter that allow app developers or advertising companies to create third-party tools. In response to criticism from ACLU saying that social media companies have been “lax” in monitoring their data, social media companies say they’ve stopped Geofeedia’s access to their information.

According to The New York Times article: “These platforms should be doing more to protect the free speech rights of activists of color,” Matt Cagle, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. in Northern California, said in an interview. “When they open their feeds to companies that market surveillance products, they risk putting their users in harm’s way.”

Each of the companies had a concern for how their data was being used. Instagram and Facebook terminated Geofeedia’s access to their data in September, while Twitter shut off access on Tuesday. The companies suggested that Geofeedia was using social media data in a way that was not allowed under their developer agreements. The public data made available by Facebook, for example, was subject to access limitations stated in the company’s platform policy. Developers are required to provide a privacy policy that details what data they are collecting and how the data is intended to be used. Consent is also required from people before using any Facebook technology that collects and processes data about them.

In response to this news, Team Geofeedia issued a blog entitled A Commitment to Freedom of Speech and Civil Liberties, in which it defined Geofeedia’s role as a “software platform that aims to provide important, real-time, publicly available information to a broad range of private and public sector clients, including corporations, media and journalism groups, marketing and advertising firms, educational companies, cities, schools, sports teams, and the aviation sector.”

Phil Harris, chief executive of Geofeedia, said in a statement that his company “provides some clients, including law enforcement officials across the country, with a critical tool in helping to ensure public safety while protecting civil rights and liberties.” He said the firm has policies to prevent “inappropriate use of our software.”

Mr. Harris added that the company understands that given how quickly digital technology changes, Geofeedia “must continue to work to build on these critical protections of civil rights.”

The blog states: “In each of these areas, Geofeedia is committed to the principles of personal privacy, transparency, and both the letter and the spirit of the law when it comes to individual rights. Our platform provides some clients, including law enforcement officials across the country, with a critical tool in helping to ensure public safety while protecting civil rights and liberties.

Notably, our software has also been used in response and recovery efforts – from the Boston Marathon to the effects of Hurricane Matthew that we saw this past weekend – to assist millions of people affected by both manmade and natural events.

Geofeedia has in place clear policies and guidelines to prevent the inappropriate use of our software; these include protections related to free speech and ensuring that end-users do not seek to inappropriately identify individuals based on race, ethnicity, religious, sexual orientation or political beliefs, among other factors. That said, we understand, given the ever-changing nature of digital technology, that we must continue to work to build on these critical protections of civil rights.

Geofeedia will continue to engage with key civil liberty stakeholders, including the ACLU, and the law enforcement community to make sure that we do everything in our power to support the security of the American people and the protection of personal freedoms.”

The ACLU got wind of the use of Geofeedia when 60+ law enforcement agency records revealed a significant expansion of social media surveillance.

“Posts on social media platforms can reveal information about our location, our religion, the people we associate with,” Cagle said. “Users of social media websites do not expect or want the government to be monitoring this information. And users should not be at risk of being branded a risk to public safety simply for speaking their mind on social media.”

The New York Times has used Geofeedia technology in the past, but stated that it has not used it since 2015.

Regardless of the threat to civil liberties, it does appear that such location-based information gleaned from social media is here to stay, for reasons of national security, community security, disaster response and recovery, etc. Thus it would seem policies to protect civil rights of individuals need to be quickly put in place. Geofeedia is not the only company providing this sort of surveillance. See our story in GISCafe Voice Vencore Aggregates Data from many Open Sources and Social Media





Contribute Ideas to our Trends/Predictions Article for 2016!

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Hello Readers!

For-You-Happy-Holiday- (more…)

GISCafe at GEOINT 2015

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Next week GISCafe will be flying to GEOINT 2015 Symposium held June 22-25 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

Tradecraft (more…)

Special Blog Coverage of 3D Cities Coming in November!

Monday, October 20th, 2014

During the week of November 17th, GISCafe Voice will run a special feature blog on the topic, “3D Cities: Envisioning Communities of the Future.”

smarterbettercity_130021 (more…)

Special Coverage: Greater Clarity from Space — Update on Satellite Imagery

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Satellite imagery has undergone a paradigm shift in the past couple of years.


Airbus MOJ Tracker

Airbus MOJ Tracker


Microsoft moves to acquire Nokia

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013


It looks as though Microsoft Corp. is moving into a paradigm shift with its move toward a $7 billion acquisition from Nokia to thrust it into the mobile market. Nokia will still remain a company after Microsoft buys the company’s handset business. While Microsoft is acquiring what Nokia is best known for, the Finnish company is holding on to two if its major businesses: networking and mapping. Microsoft has been hoping to take a slice of the mobile market from smartphone moguls Apple and Google, and meanwhile has been partnering with Nokia for three years.


Google shares outrank Microsoft’s

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

As the markets closed this Monday, Google (GOOG) shares are at $249.1 billion, much higher than Microsoft’s ($247.2 billion). Despite Microsoft’s healthy performance over the past year, in which shares are up nearly 20 percent, it is reporting it’s first ever quarterly loss since going public.

Industry experts say that although Windows 8 is debuting this month, the Windows platform is waning in popularity. Microsoft has been slow to pick up mobile, and now has come forth claiming that the new oeprating system will translate well from PCs to mobile devices.


Alliance between Esri and Microsoft announced

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

At the Esri International User Conference held in San Diego today, Esri announced a strategic alliance with Microsoft to assist public and private agencies and communities around the world during disasters. As part of this agreement, Microsoft will display Esri public information maps on its cloud-based Disaster Response Incident Portal, as well as point citizens to the maps via its online outlets, such as MSN and Bing.


Rio+20 Earth Summit tackles broad sweep of sustainability challenges

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

At Rio+20 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janiero, Brazil last week, was originally titled the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development. Varying reports have emerged from that conference, with many seeking to find answers to the problems surrounding sustainable development and environmental challenges.

In the beginning the conference’s aim was to set of Sustainable Development Goals that would replace the U.N. Millennium Development Goals—which were agreed to in New York in 2000 and are set to expire in 2015—to address global poverty.

Concerns were more broadbased than that at this Summit as parties recognized and pressed forward with votes to support the need for many progressive changes in the development and environment agenda, such as broad approval for addressing an array of ocean sustainability and agricultural issues and the creation of a new high-level forum that will draft new Sustainable Development Goals by 2014.


ArcGIS Online previewed at 2012 Esri Federal GIS Conference

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Jeff Peters, Director Federal Programs for Esri spoke with GISCafe’s Sanjay Gangal at the recent Esri Federal GIS Conference in Washington, D. C.


Teledyne: - Countless CAD add-ons, plug-ins and more.

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