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Twitter warns developers to not use its public APIs for building surveillance tools

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Last month, it was uncovered that several developers were using Twitter (& other social networks’) real-time user data to build surveillance tools that not only violated the company’s terms of service but user’s privacy as well. This tool was allegedly being used by law enforcement agencies and spies to track down people and events based on tweets and their location.

But, Twitter has today published a blog post to define the correct use of its publicly available Gnip APIs and data products. It has also issued a warning to developers and instructed them to restrict using their programming kits for surveillance purposes — even if their clients are law enforcement agencies or other parties. This move has been justified by the company as their “commitment to social justice,” which is the core of their mission.

In the blog post, Chris Moody, VP and MD of Data & Enterprise Solutions at Twitter adds,

And our policies in this area are long-standing. Using Twitter’s Public APIs or data products to track or profile protesters and activists is absolutely unacceptable and prohibited.

The same was the case with GeoFeedia, which was using Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter public feeds to develop and sell surveillance tools to multiple clients, especially the police. And in this case, the tool is allegedly said to be used by the police to monitor and crack down on the racially charged crowds after the death of an Afro-american guy named Freddie Gray in Baltimore. They were using facial recognition in combination with this real-time feed to attack and arrest people in the mobs.

The micro-blogging platform reiterates that just because users have agreed to publicly share their information, it doesn’t mean anybody has the right to demean the policies and employ it for unauthorized purposes. To take care of such future instances, Twitter says it has developed an internal process to review the use cases of applications employing Gnip data products. The company will take more stringent actions to either reject all or part of a requested use case.

And if a developer is caught trying to use the API for surveillance purposes, which is a strict no-no, then Twitter could completely revoke or provide them with limited access to their data products. But the real question is – whether it will curb the use of the micro-blogging platform for surveillance? The tools surely made the searching work easier but they could still use the social network to conduct relateable searches to  gain access and collect relevant information.


A hands-on guy fascinated by new apps, technologies and enterprise products.

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