There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch (TANSTAAFL). Whenever somebody appears to be giving you something for free it likely means you’re the product, not the customer. Social media is a prime example of this. A lot of people claim that social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram are Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) products meant to surveil the populace. I personally don’t believe any government agency is clever enough to come up with a successful product like Facebook. But I also know they don’t care because they understand that Facebook exists to mine and sell information so they can forego the expenses of starting a service and just buy the data.
Geofeedia was recently caught selling social media data to law enforcement departments. The company managed to get its hands on this data by simply becoming a paying customer for sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Once the company was a paying customer it could grab user data, which is the real product, and package it up to sell to law enforcement departments.
But United States law enforcers aren’t the only buyers of social media data. Government agencies across the blog pay top dollar for surveillance data. The British Transport Police were also buying social media data:
The BTP, meanwhile, has purchased software called RepKnight. According to the company’s website, RepKnight can help identify, investigate or prevent political unrest, criminal activity, and activists. It can also be used to investigate DDoS attacks.
As well as searching Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and other social networks, RepKnight can be used for “sentiment analysis,” which presents users with “an instant summary of the mood across your search results, letting you quickly spot if something’s going wrong,” RepKnight’s site reads. Customers can use the service through a normal web browser, as well as on tablets and mobile phones.
In all, the BTP has spent £41,400 ($50,500) on purchasing the software and annual licenses for its use since July 2014, according to figures published by the Department for Transport.
A lot of people mistakenly believe their personal information isn’t worth anything. These are the people that usually say “Nobody cares what I do, I’m boring.” or “If they spy on me they’ll be bored.” or something else along those lines. But BTP forked out $50,000 just to surveil the seemingly mundane lives of everyday people. In other words, even the most boring person’s data is valuable.
What’s interesting is RepKnight seems to have some interesting capabilities. Geofeedia seems to be tailored towards surveillance but RepKnight seems to be tailored towards crushing political dissidence by allowing customers to go so far as launch a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.
As more of our lives move online the public-private surveillance partnership will continue to grow. Don’t be surprised if you’re pulled over in the near future and the law enforcer drags you out of your vehicle and beats the shit out of you because the surveillance software on his car’s laptop pulled up a negative commend you made about the police (the software, of course, will be loaded to enhance officer safety).