Most of the world's Internet-connected netizens know of Google through its wildly popular consumer-facing products like its search engine and YouTube video hosting platform. Yet, Google's parent company Alphabet also operates a fascinating "think/do tank" called Jigsaw (formerly Google Ideas) that asks "How can technology make the world safer?" Jigsaw is involved in an incredible array of projects from fighting hate speech with deep learning to making the world's constitutions searchable (a project I personally was heavily involved in, building the technology infrastructure that was used to acquire, digitize, version and codify thousands of constitutions and amendments dating back more than 200 years). Yet, one project of particular interest in today's world of botnet-enabled mass DDOS attacks on free speech and the evolution of cyberwarfare is Jigsaw's Project Shield, which offers free DDOS protection for news, human rights and elections monitoring websites, powered by Google's own global infrastructure. To most of us, distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks are something we read about in the news periodically when one of our favorite websites goes down.
SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. police departments used location data and other user information from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to track protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday. Facebook, which also owns Instagram, and Twitter shut off the data access of Geofeedia, the Chicago-based data vendor that provided data to police, in response to the ACLU findings. "These special data deals were allowing the police to sneak in through a side door and use these powerful platforms to track protesters," said Nicole Ozer, the ACLU's technology and civil liberties policy director. In a tweet, Twitter said that it was "immediately suspending Geofeedia's commercial access to Twitter data," following the ACLU report.
According to an ACLU blog post published on Tuesday, law enforcement officials implemented a far-reaching surveillance program to track protesters in both Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD during their recent uprisings and relied on special feeds of user data provided by three top social media companies: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Specifically, all three companies granted access to a developer tool called Geofeedia which allows users to see the geographic origin of social media posts and has been employed by more than 500 law enforcement organizations to track protesters in real time. Based on information in the @ACLU's report, we are immediately suspending @Geofeedia's commercial access to Twitter data. Twitter renegotiated their contract with the subsidiary that granted Geofeedia access with additional terms to safeguard against surveillance and sent the analytics company a cease and desist letter on Monday before shutting down access altogether earlier today.