Twitter Warns Developers Not To Use Public APIs To Make Spy Tools

Developers are being warned not to employ Twitter data to develop apps that allow law enforcement agencies to spy on activists, protestors or other users.

In a blog post directed at Twitter developers yesterday, Chris Moody, vice president and general manager for data and enterprise solutions, said such uses run counter to the company's commitment to social justice. He added that using Twitter's public APIs or data products to enable surveillance is "absolutely unacceptable and prohibited."

A social media monitoring company called Geofeedia was found to be using data from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to develop law-enforcement apps for tracking protestors and activists, according to research published last month by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California. Following the ACLU's report, Twitter announced on its Policy feed that it had suspended Geofeedia's commercial access to its data.

Surveillance Apps a 'Great Concern'

"Recent reports about Twitter data being used for surveillance . . . have caused us great concern," Moody said in his blog post. While Twitter provides developers with access to user data and APIs to enable real-time responses to emergencies and long-term social development goals, it prohibits them from using that data for law enforcement monitoring, he said. Developers who violate those policies can be suspended or cut off entirely from access to Twitter's data products, he added.

Moody, who was previously CEO of the social data company Gnip before it was acquired by Twitter in 2014, noted that Twitter has an internal review process for assessing developers' proposed applications for user data, and that it can deny part or all of their proposals based on how that data would be used.

"Over the coming months, you'll see us take on expanded enforcement and compliance efforts, including adding more resources for swiftly investigating and acting on complaints about...

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