Over the past couple of months, Twitter has cut off three separate social media surveillance software companies from access to its ‘firehose’ of data: Geofeedia, Snaptrends, and Media Sonar. The social media giant pulled the data plug on these companies after my colleagues at the ACLU of California showed Twitter that the spy companies were marketing their products to police on the basis that they can help police track Black dissidents.
Now Twitter has gone even further, in response to new information from the ACLU of California: It’s declared that it won’t allow any fusion center or government agency to access its data for surveillance purposes.
From an ACLU blog announcing the historic decision:
As of this week, Twitter has made sure that federally funded fusion centers can no longer use a powerful social media monitoring tool to spy on users. After the ACLU of California discovered the domestic spy centers had access to this tool, provided by Dataminr (a company partly owned by Twitter), Dataminr was forced to comply with Twitter’s clear rule prohibiting use of data for surveillance.
Twitter sent a letter to the ACLU of California this week confirming that Dataminr has terminated access for all fusion center accounts. The letter also makes clear that Dataminr will no longer provide social media surveillance tools to any local, state, or federal government customer.
Where does that leave us in Boston, as the Boston Police Department considers spending $1.4m on social media spying software to monitor Twitter and other websites? Hundreds of residents have called the Mayor and City Council to express their opposition to the plan. City Councilors have raised public objections. Three of the biggest social media spying companies have lost their access to Twitter data. And now, because of Twitter’s latest decision to cut off all fusion centers, the BPD’s fusion center—the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC)—won’t be able to access the information it seeks from Twitter, no matter which company it might choose.
Will the Mayor and police commissioner go ahead with the costly plan anyway, despite the public’s opposition and the seemingly doomed status of the industry?
We aren’t sure what will happen, in large part because the police and the Mayor’s office refuse to provide any information to the press about what’s going on behind closed doors, or what they’re thinking. Perhaps that will soon change because of these new revelations. In the meantime, call the Mayor’s office and tell him you don’t support this costly surveillance boondoggle: 617-635-4500.