Twitter bans intel agencies from using terror detecting data mining service

Twitter isn’t dead – at least not yet – but the social media giant certainly seems to be trying its best to hand everyone a shovel to bury it. One of the more frustrating facets of the ongoing debate about how to combat terrorism and identify home grown threats before they erupt into a crisis is the question of how our intelligence communities fail to effectively utilize social media. They need to be able to find the online signatures of radicals who are planning attacks and piece together dispersed networks which may only be connected online. Granted, it’s a vast ocean of data with enough red herrings out there to feed all of Africa, but we’d at least like them to make the effort. If they plan on using Twitter, however, things have gotten a bit tougher. The company announced this weekend that they didn’t want their data mining service, Dataminr, to be used by intelligence agencies to ferret out terrorists. (Business Insider)

Twitter has reportedly banned US intelligence agencies from using Dataminr, a service it part-owns that provides real-time alerts for breaking news like natural disasters, terror attacks, and actionable business events.

The Wall Street Journal reported the news on Sunday, citing US intelligence officials who say that Twitter was concerned about the “optics” of the relationship.

The social network told the Journal that its “data is largely public and the U.S. government may review public accounts on its own, like any user could.”

This isn’t some hypothetical threat by any means. US intelligence agencies have reportedly been using Dataminr for two years and employed the resulting data analysis in situations which include the recent attacks in Brussels. That makes sense, particularly when you read the description of the service from their own web site.

Using powerful, proprietary algorithms, Dataminr instantly analyzes all public tweets and other publicly available data to deliver the earliest signals for breaking news, real-world events, off the radar context and perspective, and emerging trends.

Particularly given the number of languages they already deal with, that certainly sounds like the ideal tool to find people talking about terror targets and coordinating plans. But now Twitter is telling the United States government that they can review public accounts on its own, like any user could? This isn’t some noble stand on the part of Twitter in which they’re declaring the personal identity and communications of the public to be sacrosanct because they’re already selling that data to marketing and advertising entities. They don’t mind exposing you to endless spam and uninvited sales pitches, but protecting you from being blown up is clearly a bridge too far.

Twitter’s leadership has already staked out their position in the political and culture wars quite clearly. Their dystopian sounding Trust and Safety Council has already moved to shut down conservative opinions as much as can be managed. But since when is fighting terrorism an officially sanctioned bad idea on the Left? Hopefully there are some other, equally robust data mining apps out there which our intel agencies can use, but at this point it would be much better to begin moving people to a less ideologically slanted social media platform.


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