Facebook along with other social media networks such as Instagram and Twitter have effectively blocked a tool that law enforcement agencies used to surveil people on social media.
In a report published by American Civil Liberties Union this past on Tuesday, it announced that the organization had managed to obtain documents that uncovered activities carried out by law enforcement agencies to spy on people.
The American Civil Liberties Union also revealed that the organization accessed these public records through an access request made to relevant authorities.
The organization also announced, as a result of those revealing documents, that social media networks such as Facebook and Instagram had actually blocked data access to a particular company that basically sold surveillance products to law enforcement agencies.
Furthermore, Twitter also thwarted attempts made to access its data by the surveillance product in question.
The surveillance product that has been blocked, in this case, is called Geofeedia, and it is specifically utilized by law enforcement agencies to keep an eye on different social media websites on a mass scale.
However, the surveillance product also uses other means of data access to spy on users that visit these social media websites on a regular basis.
Media reports also uncovered a particular internal email and according to the email’s content, it was shown that the company that sold surveillance products claimed that the company’s product successfully covered Ferguson and Mike Brown events nationally with great success.
The email was basically an exchange between Geofeedia representatives and the police and it also contained information in reference to the events that took place in Missouri (a couple of years ago in the year 2014) because of the fatal shooting of a black teenager.
The shooting event lead to more protests which were covered in detail by various media outlets back then.
Geofeedia official website says that the company’s location-based intelligence platform enables hundreds of organizations around the world to successfully predict, analyze and act based on real-time social media signals.
In the same report published by American Civil Liberties Union, it was stated that Instagram, in the past, had allowed Geofeedia access to the company’s API. Facebook too gave Geofeedia unrestricted access to a data feed that was named Topic Feed API.
Facebook’s API (Application program interface) enabled users of the API to view a ranked list of public posts that were able on the social media website.
Geofeedia was also able to access data from Twitter but it was through an intermediary. The access enabled Geofeedia product users to work with a searchable access to the company’s database of tweets made by the users who visited the site. However, like the previous two database accesses, this one too was limited to public posts i.e public tweets.
However, on September 19, Instagram along with Facebook curtailed Geofeedia’s access to their API in order to stop Geofeedia to use their databases and offer surveillance products to law enforcement agencies.
Several hours after several online news websites published articles reporting the news, Geofeedia came up with a response of its own.
Phil Harris, who is the Chief Executive Officer at Geofeedia, provided media outlets with an email statement which said that the company’s surveillance tool was used by law enforcement officials across the country and its primary purpose was to help these law enforcement agencies to ensure public safety.
Moreover, the CEO of Geofeedia said that his company was, at the same time, deeply dedicated to protecting the civil right and liberties.
For one reason or another, the CEO of Geofeedia did not divulge the details of how the company ensured the protection of civil rights and liberties.
Geofeedia’s CEO Phil Harris also stated that Geofeedia was a software platform that aimed to provide important , real-time publicly available information to a broad range of private and public sector clients.
He further said that these clients included the likes of corporations, media and journalism groups along with marketing and advertising firms, educational companies, cities, school, sports teams and other companies and organization involved with the aviation sector.
The statement from Geofeedia’s CEO also read that in each of the areas, Geofeedia was committed to the principles of personal privacy, transparency and both the letter and the spirit of the law when it came to individual rights.
In the same message, Phil Harris, also noted that the company’s platform provided some clients, including law enforcement official across the country, with a critical tool in helping to ensure public safety while protecting civil rights and liberties.
He furthered added that Geofeedia software had also been used in response and recovery efforts in various events, from the Boston Marathon to the effects of Hurricane Matthew that took place during the past week.
The statement also revealed that the Geofeedia products allowed various organizations to assist million of people who were affected by both manmade and natural events.
The full statement by Geofeedia’s CEO also mentioned that Geofeedia had in place clear policies and guidelines to prevent the inappropriate use of the company’s software and that these measures included protections related to free speech and ensuring that end-users did not seek to inappropriately identify individuals based on race, ethnicity, religious, sexual orientation or political beliefs among many other factors.
The official statement from Geofeedia’s CEO continued and stated that Geofeedia understood, given the ever-changing nature of digital technology, that the company had to put in more effort in order to continue to work to build on these critical protections of civil rights.
And the official statement ended with Geofeedia pledging that the company would continue to engage with key civil liberty stakeholders, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the related law enforcement community to make sure that Geofeedia did everything in its power to support the security of the American citizens and the protection of personal freedoms.
With that said, there is no doubt about the fact that social media surveillance software has become a tool of choice for spying agencies whether public or private to keep tabs on “suspects.”
As the result, the surveillance issue has become a controversial one, especially for law enforcement agencies.
According to official sources such as a recent blog post, the American Civil Liberties Union’s main issue is not Geofeedia’s product itself but the fact that the Geofeedia’s technology could easily fall into the wrong hands or even be used by entities that target specific areas where people of different ethnicities live.
Geofeedia’s surveillance product could also be used to monitor and track activists within targeted neighborhoods.
According to a recent report published by The Daily Dot in May earlier this year, it was reported that the Denver police had actually splurged around $30,000 on surveillance products that were offered by Geofeedia.
For the sake of end-users, it is heartening to note that at least this isn’t the first time that social media network giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have complained about surveillance products using their services and databases.
Back in May, Twitter, in an effort to protest against surveillance companies making use of the social media giant’s platform, actually blocked data access to a service by the name of Dataminr, a service used to identify unfolding terror attacks along with other events that might lead to some sort of a political disorder.
Nevertheless, the American Civil Liberties Union is of the opinion that more action needs to be taken in order to ensure that surveillance products are not used inappropriately against certain sections of the general population.
In a recent statement, the group also said that particular care should be taken to ensure that when it came to the social media networks themselves, services like Geofeedia’s were kept under check.
The American Civil Liberties Union also put a written statement which said that beyond the agreements with Geofeedia, the group was also concerned about the lack of robust or properly enforced anti-surveillance policies.
The statement further added that neither sites like Facebook nor Instagram had a public policy regarding a specific prohibition on developers from exploiting user data for their surveillance objectives.
Expectedly, the American Civil Liberties Union is also advocating a call to ban data access to developers who may use that data for surveillance tools.
The group also has put forward the suggestion that companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram along with many other should publish transparent policies regarding the issue of their data being utilized for surveillance products or services.
Moreover, the American Civil Liberties Union wants more supervision and inspection of developers whose work involves using data from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for surveillance products.
In A Role Reversal of Sorts, Three Law Firms Have Joined Hands Against Apple With Lawsuits That Want Apple To Answer For The iPhone 6 Plus “Touch Disease.”
Regardless of the fact that a lot of iPhone 6 models have suffered from the Touch Disease, the iPhone 6 Plus is still a great smartphone device.
With that said, it is also true that the pressure on Apple to give a justification for iPhone 6 Plus smartphone’s touch disease is mounting by the day.
Relevant entities have also demanded why Apple, as far as the company’s iPhone 6 is concerned, has failed to address the fact that thousands of Apple iPhone 6 Plus smartphone devices have been hit with the touchscreen disease.
The Touch Disease, as the problem is being called, essentially makes Apple iPhone 6 Plus smartphone’s screen to stop its regular function. As a result of iPhone 6 Plus smartphone’s malfunctioning touchscreen, owners of the iPhone 6 Plus smartphone have no other choice but to seek assistance in getting their Apple iPhone 6 Plus smartphone replaced by the relevant company(either from their carrier or from the manufacturing company that is Apple).
Moreover, the fault has been revealed to be a fundamentally an engineering one. In other words, regular use of Apple iPhone 6 Plus has no correlation with iPhone 6 Plus touchscreen disease.
Earlier this fall, some California-based lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against Apple for ignoring the issue. Now, three more law firms have signed on to take the lawsuit against Apple for the company’s fault iPhone 6 Plus smartphone device.
Furthermore, another class action lawsuit has also been filed against Apple in Utah.
As indicated earlier, the Apple iPhone 6 Plus touchscreen disease is an engineering flaw and the repair cost for the fault is too great for Apple to offer each of its affected customers.
Hence, Apple opted to replace the touch diseased iPhone 6 Plus smartphone with $329 refurbished ones. The problem here is that some of those refurbished iPhone 6 Plus smartphones also started to show touch disease symptoms for some customers and that too within days and sometimes weeks of being replaced by Apple.
Now it has been found out, through Apple’s court filings, that the company is indeed aware of the issue that Apple is actually being sued by law firms in federal court over the touch disease problem both in California and Utah.
A September 20th filing related to Utah case declared that Apple had requested an extension of time to respond to the complaint.
On the other hand, a filing presented by Apple in the larger California class action lawsuit asked authorities to combine the two aforementioned cases into one so that the company could concentrate its legal power towards a single lawsuit.
In the filing, Apple’s lawyers wrote that given the similarity between the Utah and California actions, it would unnecessarily tax judicial resources if these actions were to proceed in separate class action lawsuits- especially where the Utah and California Plaintiffs purported to represent the same putative class of all consumers who purchased an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus.
However Apple, officially, has not commented on the issue publicly which raises more questions than it answers.