back to article Twitter yanks data feeding tube out of police surveillance biz

Twitter has suspended its commercial relationship with a company called Geofeedia – which provides social media data to law enforcement agencies so that they can identify potential miscreants. The social media company announced the change through its Policy account on Tuesday morning following the publication of a report by …

  1. P. Lee

    Tracking for marketing an acceptable use of Twitter-data, Appropriate for law-enforcement? No way!

    While we can all agree there are people with bad thoughts, thought-crime laws and organisations trawling for its enforcement deserve to be "unfriended" by social media.

    If the police want to know what someone is saying, they can follow them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes. They've exhausted Orwell and now they're working their way through Philip K. Dick.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      "If the police want to know what someone is saying, they can follow them."

      as long as the information the cops have is the same information ANY of us can get, why is it a problem? leaving digital footprints is just what it is. As long as evidence-gathering laws and restrictions such as subpoenas and judiciary approval aren't violated, cops should be able to collect whatever they can. It's like the cops observing a meeting in a public place, or a conversation on a public street, whatever. Not the same as tapping your phone or bugging your house or using surveilance cameras through your windows.

      So, that being said...

      Water the garden on Tuesdays.

      Do not consume the muffins.

      Percival has new shoes.

      Carry the flowers to the grave site.

      Janet has a Ming vase.

      Bill carries the book.

      Untold mysteries await.

      No shoes, no shirt, no service.

      (that oughta feed the info-gatherers for a while)

      1. scrubber

        Missing the point

        The cops should not be following anyone without good reason. Just because I drive on public roads does not mean the cops should constantly monitor my whereabouts and be able to track where I've been over time.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Missing the point

          The cops should not be following anyone without good reason.

          Yes and no.

          If a cops see a guy climbing across a fence into someone's garden they used to be perfectly entitled to follow him for a bit. Until he tries to break in, then nab him in the act. That used to be the case and still is.

          The question is how you define "climb over someone's garden fence" in digital terms. IMHO, if it is public it is fair game - they should be entitled to mine it and the usual suspects should not throw a spanner in the works. They can also "follow" said subject within what would would be considered public info flows. Trying to limit this and prohibit it means providing less law and order in the digital realm than in real life. We are accustomed to this by the way (it however is wrong in the long term).

          If the info, however is private it is a search and the access standard should be a court order. Not a kangaroo court like FISA or a gruppenfuhrer order like RIPA - things which are largely a result of knee-jerk reactions.

        2. ritey

          Re: Missing the point

          I agree, but unfortunately they are already following everyone all the time on the roads with their ANPR cameras etc.

      2. 8Ace

        Not quite ..

        "It's like the cops observing a meeting in a public place, or a conversation on a public street"

        It's more like It's like the cops being able to observe EVERY meeting in a public place, or EVERY conversation on a public street

  2. Herby

    It IS public data....

    Isn't it?? If you are in the business of collecting peoples yells to each other in a forum (which is pretty basic), anyone should be able to use the data as they see fit. If you don't want the yells used, it should be the responsibility of the yeller to not use the service. If you want to keep a secret, don't tell anyone!! If you put up a microphone (in plain sight) in a park, with a note "we are recording this" what else would you expect??

    Just remember if you don't know what the product is, look in a mirror, it is YOU!

    And everyone wonders how twitter makes money? Well they try, but nobody wants them to from the looks of it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It IS public data....

      Two points:

      1) IS it public? Facebook lets you limit the visibility of your posts to your friends, or your friends' friends, or make them open to the world. If you have it set to something other than "the world" but this company still had access to info about it, then Facebook's privacy protections were a sham.

      2) Even if it is public, going to millions of Facebook pages to extract this info would be very difficult and time consuming even after it is automated - and you'd need to keep updating the automation as Facebook tweaks its HTML. There's a huge difference between me writing down private information about myself and shoving it in a stack of papers 50' high that law enforcement has access to but would take them a lot of resources to search, and me typing that private information and having it put into a nice searchable database for law enforcement to conduct keyword or person searches in a millisecond.

      Basically your argument is "since you are putting your information out there, it should be available for law enforcement (or anyone else) to do whatever they want with it". So I guess Facebook and Twitter shouldn't be used by activists to coordinate their actions? Even if you are against BLM, what about dissidents in countries like Iran or Russia who might "disappear" if they say the wrong thing about the wrong person? Social media has really helped them find others of like mind, and made the 'Arab Spring' uprisings possible in a way that they never could have been if they had to rely on people telling each other in person. What's their alternative, put up fliers on telephone poles?

      While its nice Facebook/Twitter cut off their relationship with this one company - after it was outed - I wonder how many other companies they have similar arrangements with, and how many of them supply their info (willingly, knowingly, or otherwise) to law enforcement or the CIA?

  3. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Everyone is saying 'commercial usage'. Police/secret squirrels aren't going to pay commercial rates.

    1. Ole Juul

      "Police/secret squirrels aren't going to pay commercial rates."

      Then they can do without, just like with any other commodity they buy.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Are you referring to the same squirrel which paid 1M for one hacked iPhone.

      I'd rather have them pay commercial rates for data than pay for Predator drones, armored personnel vehicles as well as ridiculous rates for "evidence" they do not really need.

      Observation and collection of information is an essential part of policing. Running over unarmed protesters with a UAV or hosing them down with water cannon - not so much. Unless you are in Pinochet's Chile of course.

      1. Someone Else Silver badge

        Observation and collection of information is an essential part of policing. Running over unarmed protesters with a UAV or hosing them down with water cannon - not so much. Unless you are in Pinochet's ChileHerr Drumpf's post-apocalyptic America of course.


  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    " thought-crime laws and organisations trawling for its enforcement deserve to be "unfriended" by social media."

    "anyone should be able to use the data as they see fit".

    And here's the problem, from two different post, and it won't vary much here after.

    Cnuts and fcukwits one and all.

    And if you didn't get the social media point then a downvote is a result for the second quote Win/Win

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    <sarcasm> All activists are potential terrorists, so we must track them just in case. Oh, better add journalists to that list too, while we're at it. </sarcasm>

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Potential

      Why would you have a list? Just follow everyone.

      And how can Twitter not provide a real-time feed of what each user inputs? Isn't that literally their entire function?

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Potential

      How are we going to know where all the muslims/immigrants/PHP programmers are to round them up if we don't have the twitter data ?

      You expect everyone to wear little colored badges?

      (You might not like Trump's personality but his promise to crackdown on PHP is gaining him a lot of support)

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Potential

        You expect everyone to wear little colored badges?

        If you are Amber Rudd - yes.

        Open the "Law for the Protection of the State" (Bulgaria, as amended with antisemitic chapters in 1934), Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service" (Nazi Germany, 1933), the USSR criminal code of 1937 (That one was carefully erased from history by Hrushev), the similar law in Hungary (1934), etc.

        You will easily find the chapter that specifies that all companies must publish official numbers of the Jews they employ. Chronologically it is right before the decrees that mandate wearing yellow stars and putting them on your door.

        I gave the first one (the Bulgaria one) to Junior to read so he can be prepared for the day when he will go to school proudly wearing a blue badge with yellow stars (granted with 5 rays, not 6) on it and we have to put it on our house too.

  6. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Are the comments here considered "social media"? <grabs tinfoil hat><dives into bunker>

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No. Just as CB radio, BBS, or web forums weren't considered "social media".

      When you think about it the lines are a bit blurry, but I'd say the key difference is whether a community is topic centric, or personality centric.

    2. MrDamage

      > "Are the comments here considered "social media"?"

      Given how often we tell each other, or the subjects of the stories, to go sodomise themselves with a rusty tin can filled with broken glass and sulphuric acid, it's more like anti-social media.

      1. frank ly


        It's just locker room banter. Don't be such a penny.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge

        "it's more like anti-social media."

        like IRC and USENET

  7. Oh Homer


    "the security of the American people


    the protection of personal freedoms"

    Shouldn't that be "or"?

    1. scrubber

      Re: Oxymoron

      Security and freedom are not fungible. Neither should they be negotiable.

      1. Oh Homer

        Re: Security and freedom are not fungible

        Apparently the American government disagrees.

        I'm merely noting that America has been transformed into a police state in the name of "security", thus depriving Americans of the very freedoms that this "security" purports to be defending.

        On the other hand, the very concept of "freedom" is largely delusional. If you have laws, you don't have freedom. More fundamentally, and even in the complete absence of laws, you can in principle never actually have freedom, because you never have freedom from consequences.

    2. Someone Else Silver badge

      @ Oh Homer -- Re: Oxymoron

      No, it is correct as written. The relation is false unless both terms are true.

  8. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    nothing is sacred anymore

    trust nobody. that is all.

  9. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Social media feeds

    This is interesting - I guess we should have seen it coming. However it has the possibility that it could be a double-edges sword if enough people post the wrong information on social media. Tweet "Everybody move North" and then run south.

  10. israel_hands

    The problem isn't that the filth are buying social media twaddle pre-packaged from pipelines. If people are going to put messages into to public space that can be searched by anyone then the should expect that. You just can't have it both ways that something is simultaneously public and private.

    The real root problem is that the filth have a long and storied history of suppressing political activism, a predisposition to targetting minorities and are generally racist cockwombles. But that problem is deeply ingrained in them and goes so far beyond the pointless tedium of social media. All this Twitter shit is doing is giving the filth another way of being the same old cunts they've always been.

    In short, if you want something to be private, don't post it publically. There's no guarantee it'll stay private because the filth love surveillance but if you post something publically you can't complain when somebody reads it.

  11. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Missing an opportunity

    Instead of pulling the feed, the company could have provided a service that allowed people to pay a monthly subscription in return for not grassing them up to the police.

    1. Someone Else Silver badge

      Cynic_999 -- Re: Missing an opportunity

      Sorry, but no. No one should have to pay extortion to have their privates remain private.

  12. lukewarmdog

    The problem is with the police. That's it. Something has come along that they don't control and they realise they need to be in the loop. Because if something happened on Twitter they didn't know about, they wouldn't be doing their jobs. If they could find out about something in advance, they could do a better job. And whilst this is true to a certain extent it does lead to "let's assign everyone a robot policeman to follow them about all day, preventing crime".

    "It's like the cops observing a meeting in a public place, or a conversation on a public street, whatever."

    They're not allowed to do this covertly. I'd suggest reading all your online posts without your knowledge is covert. If I knew they read them I'd do thing differently. If a policeman is in uniform the situation is different to undercover cops being present. So yes it is like that but you say it like that would be a good thing and it's not.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I suspect the real reason is simpler ..

    .. someone wanted too much money for it. I really don't buy all the concern for user privacy, because if that really mattered they would never have started this whole idea.

    I call BS.

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