When Social Monitoring Goes Local, Privacy Concerns Grow

Privacy worries hit closer to home thanks to hyper-local social listening platforms.

Photo: Geofeedia

Social media monitoring is the sausage-making of our online lives. Intellectually, most of us know that big brands and big governments are mining social networks to gather information about the public (heck, some of us ARE those brands), but we usually opt for some tasty denial when it comes to whether or not our personal posts are being watched. However, when social monitoring goes local, the reality of our online visibility is harder to ignore.

Geofeedia, which was recently named a finalist for the Chicago Innovation awards, is one example of a social listening tool with a hyper-local point of view. The company’s proprietary software allows subscribers to literally outline regions of a map as small as a few city blocks to review all the public check-ins, tweets, pictures and posts in that area

Narrowing the scope of social data mining is a welcome resource for brands, municipalities and even journalists looking for insights on a particular beat. But the increasingly close proximity is causing concern for those focused on user privacy.

In Racine, Wis. local police have purchased a $4,200 license with SnapTrends, a social monitoring service for law enforcement, to track social media within the city. An editorial in local newspaper The Journal Times credits the service with helping to solve a murder case in the area, but expressed concern that the police have yet to provide specifics on how residents’ information will be used and stored.

California state assemblyman Mike Gatto recently sponsored a bill to address the same concerns within schools. The newly passed legislation mandates that school districts take steps to inform students and parents of taxpayer-funded social media monitoring and destroy sensitive student information within a year of the student turning 18 or leaving the school district.

“Imagine the harm that could be caused if a hacker, mean-spirited employee, or even a careless IT worker were to expose a database of all of the things a person said or did as a teenager” said assemblymen and legislation author Mike Gatto. Other school districts nationwide have grappled with similar fears.

It’s a valid concern, and just the beginning of privacy discussions that are likely to come about as social media filtering and geotagging software become more accessible. For now, no matter what you say on social media, consider the hidden listeners before you speak up.