On­line shar­ing trea­sure trove for snoops

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

They show what we like, re­veal who we’ve been with and flag where we are go­ing. So­cial net­works of­fer win­dows into peo­ple’s lives, and ex­ploit­ing those in­sights is big busi­ness - with some sound­ing the alarm over the ever-grow­ing in­tru­sion from cor­po­ra­tions and gov­ern­ments alike. “There is a thin line of dif­fer­ence be­tween sur­veil­lance of in­di­vid­u­als and mon­i­tor­ing for re­search pur­poses,” Gart­ner an­a­lyst Jenny Sussin told AFP.

Even when es­pi­onage is not the orig­i­nal goal, noth­ing pre­vents some­one from cre­at­ing streams of Twit­ter posts based on where in­for­ma­tion is shared or who is do­ing the shar­ing. Twit­ter and Face­book last week re­voked data ac­cess for an an­a­lyt­ics firm which, ac­cord­ing to a civil lib­er­ties group, helped law en­force­ment track peo­ple protest­ing the po­lice shoot­ing of black men in sev­eral US cities.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union re­ported that Ge­ofee­dia had been mar­ket­ing its ser­vices to US po­lice agen­cies to help track ac­tivists us­ing their so­cial me­dia posts and lo­ca­tion data. Ac­cord­ing to in­ter­nal doc­u­ments pub­lished by the ACLU, Ge­ofee­dia boasted that it “cov­ered Fer­gu­son/Mike Brown na­tion­ally with great suc­cess,” re­fer­ring to the wave of protests in the Mis­souri com­mu­nity af­ter the shoot­ing of an un­armed African-Amer­i­can man.

The ACLU doc­u­ments showed that Ge­ofee­dia claimed to have ac­cess to the Twit­ter “fire­hose” or full stream of data which can be an­a­lyzed and in­ter­preted by lo­ca­tion and other fac­tors. Ge­ofee­dia is one of an ar­ray of com­pa­nies built on the abil­ity to mine in­sights from the mas­sive amount of in­for­ma­tion freely shared on so­cial net­works. Twit­ter had pre­vi­ously barred US in­tel­li­gence from us­ing the Datam­inr an­a­lyt­i­cal tool to scan mis­sives sent via the one-to-many mes­sag­ing ser­vice.

The ACLU, how­ever, wants on­line so­cial net­works to ramp up ef­forts with moves that in­clude the block­ing of ap­pli­ca­tions used as tools for spy­ing or po­lice sur­veil­lance. Com­pa­nies pro­cess­ing peo­ple’s per­sonal data have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to find out who the end user is go­ing to be, Sophia Cope, a lawyer spe­cial­iz­ing in civil lib­er­ties at the Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion (EFF). She en­cour­ages firms to ask spe­cific ques­tions to find out what use the data will be put to.

Pri­vacy vs Se­cu­rity

The de­gree to which in­ter­net firms should co­op­er­ate with po­lice or in­tel­li­gence ser­vices is a long-run­ning de­bate. In France, there were con­cerns that data-min­ing com­pa­nies put their soft­ware to work for par­ties in­ter­ested in mon­i­tor­ing op­po­nents of regimes in Libya or Syria. In­ter­net pioneer Ya­hoo was re­cently ac­cused of scan­ning mes­sages at its email ser­vice for a snip­pet be­ing sought by US au­thor­i­ties. So­cial net­works, how­ever, dif­fer in that the data be­ing pe­rused is typ­i­cally on pub­lic dis­play and not pri­vate.

The US govern­ment has em­ploy­ees who mon­i­tor so­cial net­works, but the time and ef­fort in­volved has cre­ated busi­ness op­por­tu­nity for com­pa­nies such as Ge­ofee­dia. An­a­lyt­ics firms of­ten have the ad­van­tage of be­ing di­rectly con­nected, usu­ally for a fee, to streams of data at so­cial net­works. This lets the process of draw­ing out de­tails, in­sights or pat­terns be done au­to­mat­i­cally with soft­ware that prom­ises to only get smarter due to im­prove­ments in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

Use of the data can range from be­nign to trou­bling. Data mined by firms can help tar­get ads, mean­ing that peo­ple see mar­ket­ing mes­sages that might spark in­ter­est in­stead of an­noy­ance. Re­searchers can seek clues to causes or spreads of ill­ness, or mea­sure pub­lic sen­ti­ment dur­ing po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns. IBM an­nounced this sum­mer a col­lab­o­ra­tion with a Brazil­ian re­search cen­ter to track the spread of dis­eases such as Zika, dengue or chikun­gunya by study­ing Twit­ter posts. In Los An­ge­les, the De­part­ment of Jus­tice funded re­search to see if the po­lice could pre­vent racist crimes by fig­ur­ing out where hateful com­ments on so­cial net­works were orig­i­nat­ing to de­ter­mine at-risk neigh­bor­hoods. Anal­y­sis of so­cial me­dia data can also be abused, Cope cau­tioned. For her, any kind of mon­i­tor­ing is prob­lem­atic but govern­ment keep­ing tabs on peo­ple comes with the added of­fense of vi­o­lat­ing con­sti­tu­tional rights.

Think Be­fore Post­ing

Face­book, Twit­ter and other on­line venues use terms of ser­vice that set lim­its on what those tap­ping into data are per­mit­ted to do with the in­for­ma­tion. Sussin would like to see In­ter­net firms do more to make peo­ple mind­ful of mo­ments when they are shar­ing their lo­ca­tions. “You vol­un­tar­ily par­tic­i­pate in your own mon­i­tor­ing,” said End­point Tech­nolo­gies An­a­lyst Roger Kay. “Many peo­ple live their lives quite pub­licly,” al­low­ing spies, or crim­i­nals to track them, the an­a­lyst main­tained. In one dra­matic il­lus­tra­tion: Im­ages shared by so­cial me­dia queen Kim Kardashian were be­lieved to have played a role in her be­ing robbed in Paris re­cently. She has since be­come much more dis­creet. — AFP

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