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CIA-Backed Surveillance Tool 'Geofeedia' Was Marketed To Public Schools (dailydot.com) 41

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Daily Dot: An online surveillance tool that enabled hundreds of U.S. law enforcement agencies to track and collect information on social media users was also marketed for use in American public schools, the Daily Dot has learned. Geofeedia sold surveillance software typically bought by police to a high school in a northern Chicago suburb, less than 50 miles from where the company was founded in 2011. An Illinois school official confirmed the purchase of the software by phone on Monday. In the fall of 2014, the Lincolnshire-Prairie School District paid Geofeedia $10,000 to monitor the social media posts of children at Adlai E. Stevenson High School. "We did have for one year a contract with Geofeedia," said Jim Conrey, a spokesperson for Lincolnshire-Prairie School District. "We were mostly interested in the possibility of trying to prevent any kind of harm, either that students would do to themselves or to other students." Conrey said the district simply wanted to keep its students safe. "It was really just about student safety; if we could try to head off any potential dangerous situations, we thought it might be worth it," he said. Ultimately, the school found little use for the platform, which was operated by police liaison stationed on school grounds, and chose not to renew its subscription after the first year, citing cost and a lack of actionable information. "A lot of kids that were posting stuff that we most wanted, they weren't doing the geo-tagging or making it public," Conrey said. "We weren't really seeing a lot there." The school's experience, added Conrey, was that more often than not students would approach school administrators with sensitive issues, as opposed to the school unearthing problems affecting students using Geofeedia. "Quite frankly, we found that it wasn't worth the money," Conrey said.
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CIA-Backed Surveillance Tool 'Geofeedia' Was Marketed To Public Schools

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  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Tuesday October 18, 2016 @07:06PM (#53104651)

    And there is no broad picture to take away from this?

    Such as, if prepubescent school kids (not the mist shining example of intellectual prowess) are not a good target for this tool, how would it be effective against domestic terror agents, or even foreign terror agents?

    They imply it only collects the public data available-- not the private data. It is therefore only useful as a tool to make associations with, and make inferences, using otherwise beniegn data points.

    Unless the school has an interest in being the thought police, or trying to make Joe McCarthy's ghost blush, it is no wonder they did not find it useful.

    Given thus finding, what does this say about the CIA's goals?

    • by plover ( 150551 )

      Given thus finding, what does this say about the CIA's goals?

      If their algorithms are neural networks trained to find common links to radical jihad videos to recruit *foreign* fighters from halfway around the world, and the problem they're trying to solve is identifying kids developing ties to *local* gangs, using this tool might not be the smartest choice. That doesn't mean the tool is or isn't effective for the purpose of identifying people who are interested in what ISIS has to say.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They imply it only collects the public data available-- not the private data.

      That's what they imply, but there is no shortage of schools demanding [reddit.com] students' passwords [reddit.com], even misrepresenting the law to do so. When a student does hand over their passwords, you can bet they're plugged into these "threat intelligence" platforms to vacuum up every available bit of data. The surveillance apparatus is alive and well in today's schools.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Re: Given thus finding, what does this say about the CIA's goals?
      Anthropology.
      How groups form, who is the leader, the influencer, who is 2nd in standing.
      How products or interests are discovered and how that dynamic works in a modern group.
      The long term goals could be to make math, crypto and science fun, what trends are forming around the role of the US mil. How to get people interested in the State dept with different language skills or inner city smarts.
      The long term goal is to have 20 and 30 yo w
    • One obvious take away is that too many people who can write big checks are too easily swayed by the media reporting rare and special coincidences as if they were predicted by algorithms in so called "big data." We only ever hear about the hits because, well, who's going to report on all those misses? (Remember the one about parents finding out that their teenage daughter was pregnant?) It's simply statistical noise that happens to coincide into what appears to be a pattern. It happens whenever a dataset is

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      What is the CIAs goal? I am going to take that as "Why would the CIA do it, if it doen't even work in a school."
      The reason is "We weren't really seeing a lot there."
      The 'not a lot' means that something was seen. For the CIA that something might be an attack that will be prevented or identificaation of a network they were not aware about or even info on a person who now can be seen as dangerous and needs closer observation.

      1 in a million is worth it for the CIA. 1 in a million is not worth it for a school.

      If

    • It's not about getting data that's meaningful, it's just about getting data, and then going from there, making assumptions, generalizations, all that. It only takes one "terrorist plot undermined using geofeedia software" to get the entire country behind that software. Hell, the Iraq war was started based on the fact that they had nuclear weapons.
    • They imply it only collects the public data available-- not the private data. It is therefore only useful as a tool to make associations with, and make inferences, using otherwise beniegn data points.

      The fact this is publicly available data is key here. An NPR article I heard earlier wasn't clear on that fact. If it's simply data mining what is already out in the public, I can see how it wouldn't be valuable. If it has some sort of high level access that can see conversations marked private, that's a different story.

  • by z0idberg ( 888892 ) on Tuesday October 18, 2016 @07:13PM (#53104683)

    A covert surveillance tool monitoring your nations children operated by police liaison stationed on school grounds.
    For their own safety of course. (Well "mostly" for their safety. No mention of what the other motivations might be).

    This isn't a slippery slope. This is halfway down the mountain heading for a cliff sliding at full speed.

    • A covert surveillance tool monitoring your nations children operated by police liaison stationed on school grounds. For their own safety of course. (Well "mostly" for their safety. No mention of what the other motivations might be).

      This isn't a slippery slope. This is halfway down the mountain heading for a cliff sliding at full speed.

      All of the Twitter info captured by the tool is publicly available and when an active shooter incident occurs, calls for help via social media beat any other form of communication. Furthermore, people in general but children in particular, say pretty disturbing things on social media. Cries for help, threatening to harm themselves or other students. Perhaps the idea of a public safety employee monitoring the information is too spooky for some and apparently the value prop isn't being realized according t

      • It's publicly available is not a good argument or excuse to vacuum it all up and analyse/monitor childrens social media.

        Helpful in an active shooter scenario? If your incidence of active shooter scenarios are so high as to make this a significant reason to spy on kids then maybe spend the money to actually solve the active shooter problem.

        It could pick up cries for help or threats of self harm/harming others...There is a cost to benefit judgement here that I feel the cost (kids privacy) is way too high but

        • It's publicly available is not a good argument or excuse to vacuum it all up and analyse/monitor childrens social media.

          Helpful in an active shooter scenario? If your incidence of active shooter scenarios are so high as to make this a significant reason to spy on kids then maybe spend the money to actually solve the active shooter problem.

          It could pick up cries for help or threats of self harm/harming others...There is a cost to benefit judgement here that I feel the cost (kids privacy) is way too high but YMMV.

          The NSA and whoever else do worse so why not have schools do a subset on students is a terrible reason.

          The phrase, "vacuum it all up" is interesting because the data isn't vacuumed by Geofeedia, it's sold to them by Twitter via Gnip. It's just like how websites sell your PII to advertising companies. Everyone who uses Twitter consents to this and the fact of the matter is this: the posts you make on Twitter are every bit as public as something you screamed at the top of your lungs on from the top of a building downtown. Certainly the users have *some* personal accountability? It wasn't my intent to argue

  • by DeVilla ( 4563 ) on Tuesday October 18, 2016 @07:24PM (#53104747)
    This must save a lot time. No more asking kids "Who is your daddy and what does he do"?
  • They were thinking about the children.
    • by Sabriel ( 134364 )

      And since they were actually thinking, they stopped the surveillance when they realised it was useless for its purported goal.

      Now if only the feds would do the same.

  • I assume the conclusion the school made applies to the government as well. People probably already report a lot of stuff to the police and no secret systems are needed that spy on us. The problem is that the information that people provide to the correct instances is probably not processed properly and mostly gone to waste.
    You hear it all the time, purpetrator was known by the police, people reported x & y to authorities, sometimes even between internal divisions of the communication is not getting thro

  • You've probably used them.

    "Keyhole [wikipedia.org]" . . .which is now known as Google Earth

    "Huddle [wikipedia.org]", the collaboration software.

    Some stuff, we never see, but others have useful commercial and private uses. It's not AUTOMATICALLY bad because the CIA thought it was nifty technology that could use some angel investing. . .

  • This info was never for the student, teacher or school benefit as a whole. It's true purposes was political thought policing. Kind of obvious when you think about it. What is chilling, is that sp,e school voluntarily tried this out. Wonder of parents were asked for consent before putting the students on it....
  • ...you have nothing to fear" rationale from the school and the software vendor. I get to monitor my kids' online activities. You do not. Stop it.
  • Why are so many public schools such hellholes that administrators feel they need to take such measures in the name of "student safety"? If the argument is that the problems in schools originate outside of the schools, then mightn't the schooling of previous generations bear at least some of the blame? And a related question - why do so many schools have cops on duty?

    Might there be a fundamental flaw in public education - one that goes back to the inception of American public schools [tripod.com] (pdf) and was based on a

  • Adlai E. Stevenson High School? Quite a progressive program they have, indeed.

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