You’re the Product, Not the Customer

If you’re using an online service for free then you’re the product. I can’t drive this fact home enough. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter make their money by selling the information you post. And, unfortunately, they’ll sell to anybody, even violent gangs:

The FBI is using a Twitter tool called Dataminr to track criminals and terrorist groups, according to documents spotted by The Verge. In a contract document, the agency says Dataminr’s Advanced Alerting Tool allows it “to search the complete Twitter firehose, in near real-time, using customizable filters.” However, the practice seems to violate Twitter’s developer agreement, which prohibits the use of its data feed for surveillance or spying purposes.

This isn’t the first time that a company buying access to various social media feeds has been caught selling that information to law enforcers. Earlier this year Geofeedia was caught doing the same thing. Stories like this show that there’s no real divider between private and government surveillance. You should be guarding yourself against private surveillance as readily as you guard against government surveillance because the former becomes the latter with either a court order or a bit of money exchanging hands.

Will Dataminr have its access revoked like Geofeedia did? Let’s hope so. But simply cutting off Dataminr won’t fix the problem since I guarantee there are a bunch of other companies providing the same service. The only way to fix this problem is to stop using social media sites for activities you want to keep hidden from law enforcers. Don’t plan your protests on Facebook, don’t try to coordinate protest activity using Twitter, and don’t post pictures of your protest planning sessions on Instagram. Doing any of those things is a surefire way for law enforcers to catch wind of what you’re planning before you can execute your plan.

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