CIA-backed Chicago tech company Geofeedia’s hand was forced after Facebook, Instagram and Twitter cut ties with them for their part in helping law enforcement surveil protesters. As a result, Geofeedia let go of 31 of its roughly 60 employees.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) discovered in September that at least 13 law enforcement agencies in California were using Geofeedia to keep tabs on protesters, as well as South Asian, Muslim and Sikh activists. Later, it was revealed the company had more than 500 law enforcement customers, including the Denver Police Department, which paid $30,000 for a single year subscription to the service. Law enforcement in Baltimore too used the tool to track protesters during the unrest in the wake of the police-involved killing of Freddie Gray.
Following the subsequent ACLU report, Twitter responded by dropping Geofeedia as a client in early October.
Geofeedia cut mostly sales jobs in its Chicago office less than two weeks after Twitter severed ties with them, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“Following these suspensions, we have decided to scale back our business and focus on a variety of innovations that will allow us to serve our customers and continue our rapid growth trajectory as a leading real-time analytics and alerting platform,” Geofeedia CEO Phil Harris said in an emailed statement to the Tribune.
While Geofeedia may be forced to leave the business of mining real-time location-based social data, a similar ‘advanced alerting’ company, Dataminr, recently found itself a fruitful new client: the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), RT recently reported.
In the document detailing the company’s contact, the FBI noted that Twitter, a five percent stakeholder in Dataminr, is used “extensively by terrorist organizations and other criminals to communicate, recruit, and raise funds for illegal activity.”
Dataminr’s cooperation with the FBI appears to go against Twitter’s policy of disallowing the usage of its users to “investigate, track, or surveil Twitter’s users.”
The contract with the FBI is also at odds with Twitter’s decision in May to ban the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from using Dataminr, so as to not give the appearance of being too close to the intelligence arms of the federal government.