Geofeedia and the future of social media surveillance
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Photo Credit: John Lund / Getty Images Israel

Government agencies are using powerful tools to spy on us on social media. Has Geofeedia gone too far?

“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.”

Philip K. Dick

Regardless of whether you have heard about social media surveillance or not, chances are that your digital and social media activities, at some point, were monitored, or are still being monitored, by someone from a government agency, a third-party advertiser or a hacker.

Before you dismiss our words as just another tin-foil-hat-wearing-conspiracy-theorist’s fantasy, just Google “social media surveillance”, and click the news tab.

A recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that various government agencies have been working with an intelligence gathering tool named Geofeedia, which specifically tracks users’ data from social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. The location of users is then shared with interested parties to help them make better informed decisions. While some may feel this system to be a bit like Orewellian fiction, it has already become a pretty normal practice in today’s digital world where innovative tools are readily used to extract user information from social websites.

A Police State

With over a billion users using social websites, activists around the world have turned to platforms like Facebook and Twitter for purposes such as organizing events, coordinating during protests, and getting their messages out to the public and supporters alike. Activists’ reliance on these services have made them an attractive target for law enforcement agencies seeking to track these people. Social media tools, if not put to the right settings, can basically broadcast a user’s location data. Much like corporations that are looking to learn more about (read surveillance) their potential customers, police are looking to social media and making use of tools like Geofeedia to complete these tasks even more efficient. makes it the perfect for and corporations looking to maximize their interests. With that being said, we’ve seen what surveillance has led to in the past: the arrest and harassment of innocent civilians.

In the wake of the reaction to the ACLU report and others, Facebook and Twitter have made immediate changes by stopping Geofeedia from obtaining any access to the public posts of its users. However, neither Facebook nor Instagram have a public policy that prohibits concerned parties from exploiting user data for surveillance purposes. That begs the question: is the future of social media threatened by surveillance programs?

Data is the name of the game and it must be protected at all costs.

My Data is Your Property!

Clearly, social sites are built around the idea of selling user information to advertisers and buyers so that they predict, analyze and act based on real-time social media conversations. This highlights the importance of how users must read terms and conditions of service while updating themselves on new policy changes on a social website. Many users are unaware that they give up many rights to their content once they put it on social media sites.

Such surveillance tools are known to be utilized by government agencies and there’s no regulation. However, when such kind of media surveillance is being carried out, a public consensus becomes a must since without their consent it raises serious questions over whether there is violation of their rights.

Data is the New ROI

Unfortunately, given these circumstances, the future of freedom on social media looks bleak, while the future of surveillance shines bright. Digital privacy and security is being gradually driven to extinction, which can be proved by the fact that a company like Geofeedia has managed to raise millions in funding. Ironically, the same people who have invested in Geofeedia with the intent of making a quick buck have failed to realize that their investment will be used against them, in the very near future.

Tech companies should be more clear about what data they share with corporations and outline what information might get shared with law enforcement in an event where the law demands it. Most importantly, the users’ data is the endgame which highlights how the users must not have a carefree attitude when it comes to sharing their most important data on a social platform.

Recommendations

It’s a social world we’re living in. To absolutely shut down yourselves online is bizarre. If you deeply care about your online privacy and do not wish to share your location or other posts with the general public, you must have your social accounts set on private or take a step beyond by not posting such intricate posts online. One’s privacy is in their own hands and protecting it is their individual responsibility. Remember, if you post it, somebody might actually see it, and not always who you would want or expect.

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Ather Owais

About Ather Owais


Ather Owais is a tech and cyber security enthusiast. He follows technological trends and their impact in today’s digital era.

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  • Jazil Zaim

    I use plenty of privacy valuing services myself. I will recommend all readers these alternatives if they care about their privacy.

    For Email:
    -Protonmail
    -Tutanota

    For Messaging:
    -Wickr
    -Wire
    -Whatsapp
    -Telegram (a good alternative to snapchat)

    For social network:
    -Minds