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Business isn’t good at a Chicago tech company that was outed last month for its practice of buying social media data and re-selling it to police.
Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that Geofeedia had been given special access to data by Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in order to build software products for police that the ACLU called “surveillance tools.” Facebook and Instagram took action to limit Geofeedia’s access in September, and Twitter cut the company off after reviewing the ACLU report.
Losing access to those social media data feeds seems to have had a big impact on Geofeedia’s business.
A Geofeedia spokesperson today told the Chicago Tribune that it laid off 31 employees out of about 60 total.
In an e-mailed statement to the newspaper, Geofeedia CEO Phil Harris said his company wasn’t “created to impact civil liberties,” but after the debate spurred by the ACLU report, they’re changing the company’s direction.
The company declined to say if it lost customers following the ACLU report.
It claimed more than 500 customers, including police agencies in Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and Baltimore.
Denver police paid $30,000 for a one-year subscription.
In a funding request, a Denver police lieutenant said the service would be used to monitor large public events, like Denver’s annual marijuana rally and Martin Luther King Day march.
The ACLU uncovered e-mail exchanges between police departments and Geofeedia.
Discussions included how Baltimore used Geofeedia to “stay one step ahead of the rioters” after unrest following the death of Freddie Gray.
Geofeedia reps touted their product as one that “covered Ferguson/Mike Brown nationally with great success.”
Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director of the ACLU of California, said the police use of Geofeedia amounted to “discriminatory surveillance.”