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The FBI builds a data dragnet on Facebook

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On Wednesday, Rob Price published a nice scoop about a San Francisco marketing agency that had been s
 
August 8 · Issue #364 · View online
The Interface
On Wednesday, Rob Price published a nice scoop about a San Francisco marketing agency that had been slurping up millions of public posts from Instagram and selling it to clients. As a side effect, the company — which is called HYP3R, because San Francisco — took countless Instagram stories that were supposed to disappear after 24 hours and effectively made them permanent, storing them in a database and then renting it out to brands.
All of this is against Instagram’s terms of service, though the company didn’t notice it until Price brought it to their attention. I’m told that the practice was not particularly uncommon — one tipster told me yesterday that many marketing tech companies sell services that let brands see what people are saying about them on Instagram and other social networks. Scraping the web for commercial purposes is as old as the web itself — but as more Americans grow more concerned about privacy issues, practices like HYP3R’s are making us uncomfortable.
And as it turns out, marketing tech companies aren’t the only organizations who want to scrape social data for their own purposes. For example, there’s the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Here are Jeff Horwitz and  Dustin Volz in the Wall Street Journal today:
The FBI is soliciting proposals from outside vendors for a contract to pull vast quantities of public data from Facebook, Twitter and other social media “to proactively identify and reactively monitor threats to the United States and its interests.” The request was posted last month, weeks before a series of mass murders shook the country and led President Trump to call for social-media platforms to do more to detect potential shooters before they act. The deadline for bids is Aug. 27.
As described in the solicitation, it appears that the service would violate Facebook’s ban against the use of its data for surveillance purposes, according to the company’s user agreements and people familiar with how it seeks to enforce them.
News of the FBI’s interest in Facebook comes in the same week that the president called on social networks to build tools for identifying potential mass murderers before they act. And across the government, there appears to be growing consensus that social networks should become partners in surveillance with the government.
But so far, as the Journal story illustrates, the government’s approach has been incoherent. On one hand, it fines Facebook $5 billion for violating users’ privacy; on the other, it outlines a plan to potentially store all Americans’ public posts in a database for monitoring purposes.
It seems like we should probably only do one of those things.
What should social networks’ role in law enforcement? It would be wonderful if Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit could reliably identify murderous manifestoes as they are posted and alert the authorities. But as my colleague Adi Robertson has noted, such a system would almost certainly generate many false positives — giving conservatives in particular yet more reason to complain that they are being censored by liberal Silicon Valley elitists.
And while I assume our national security apparatus already pays close attention to social networks, I still recoil at the idea of it building a comprehensive database of public posts.
Anyway, isn’t there maybe something else the government could do here? Like, say, make combating domestic terrorism a priority at the Department of Homeland Security?
White House officials rebuffed efforts by their colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security for more than a year to make combating domestic terror threats, such as those from white supremacists, a greater priority as specifically spelled out in the National Counterterrorism Strategy, current and former senior administration officials as well as other sources close to the Trump administration tell CNN.
“Homeland Security officials battled the White House for more than a year to get them to focus more on domestic terrorism,” one senior source close to the Trump administration tells CNN. “The White House wanted to focus only on the jihadist threat which, while serious, ignored the reality that racial supremacist violence was rising fast here at home. They had major ideological blinders on.”
I’m sure that social networks have some role to play in fighting terrorism that goes beyond their current efforts. But that’s even more true of the federal government, which is still catching up to the nature of the threat. Perhaps we should start there.

Democracy
Exclusive: Critical U.S. Election Systems Have Been Left Exposed Online Despite Official Denials
Facebook Loses Facial Recognition Technology Appeal, Must Face Class Action
Trump campaign, GOP committees halt Twitter spending after McConnell account locked
Black Hat: GDPR privacy law exploited to reveal personal data
Conservatives say Google and Facebook censor them. Here’s what’s really going on.
The Lonely Work of Moderating Hacker News
U.S. Intel Officials Eye Disinformation Campaign Targeting John Bolton’s Family
The El Paso shooter was a terrorist. He won’t be charged as one. Here’s why.
Elsewhere
Facebook Offers News Outlets Millions of Dollars a Year to License Content
Facebook’s Ad Network Keeps Crashing, and Clients Are Fuming
‘The underlying arrogance’: Media buyers are frustrated with Google and Facebook ad reps
Instagram’s Chat Product to Be Rebuilt on Facebook Technology
Twitter ‘fesses up to more adtech leaks
LAPD investigating YouTuber who appeared to abuse dog in video
Launches
Twitter
You probably have notifications on for your must-follows. Now you can get notifications when there’s a new reply to a Tweet you’re interested in! We’re testing this on iOS and Android now. https://t.co/MabdFoItxc
3:33 PM - 8 Aug 2019
Facebook is starting to sell streaming video subscriptions — but not from HBO or Showtime
Takes
Shoot-'Em-Up Videogames Don't Warp Minds—Big Tech Does
And finally ...
Apple released a bunch of ASMR videos for some reason
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and legends of Ghost Forest: casey@theverge.com.
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