Everything you post on social media can and will be used against you.
That could very well be the premise of Chicago-based startup Geofeedia, a social media intelligence platform. It enables customers to act like law enforcement agencies and corporations to filter, analyze, and geolocate all their social postings on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — and then to group and post them for the world to see.
Using keyword and username filters, Geofeedia’s software collects your posts, tags them, and then groups them based on your geographical location, no matter what state or country you live in. And yes, this includes your username. This means that the cops — or more terrifying, your boss — can see what you’ve posted every time you hit send.
But unlike social media “listening” outfits like Radian6 or Social Mention, which specialize in tabulating collective sentiments of social media users based on trending topics (and other things), Geofeedia is all about location, location, location.
“Everything starts with your location. We start with a map and then draw a perimeter around it,” Geofeedia marketing director Ben Adelt told VentureBeat.
The easygoing Adelt was quick to point out that Geofeedia is not collecting your information illegally because anything you post, say, to your Instagram account is arguably public domain.
“We’re not hiding anything or doing things we shouldn’t be doing. We are an aggregator of public information, and we are making it easier to aggregate that information. So there’s no privacy concern from our end,” Adelt said.
In the short time Geofeedia has been open, beginning with a $200,000 seed round in 2011, business is booming. The FBI, DEA, McDonald’s, Dell, The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and others have signed up for the subscription-based platform. Geofeedia has around 300 paying customers and is on a hiring binge.
In addition to its obvious law enforcement uses, this has a marketing side, too. That’s because marketers wishing to gauge the sentiment about a retail chain, a newly opened restaurant, or a skate shop in a particular neighborhood, for instance, can do so based on the specific locations of customers — or potential new ones.
The good news for those wishing to opt out of seeing their name on a virtual push-pin in their hometown is they can use their privacy settings on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media services to the fullest extent. Doing so means their photos and musings would theoretically be off-limits to Geofeedia clients. But this isn’t so if a friend saves them and then reposts into the ether.
In the age of hypersocial media, things you post can come back to haunt you. The press is larded with stories of people getting canned because of incriminating photos and questionable diatribes. Now, virtually everything is public domain. Billionaire investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel put it this way recently during a television interview: “Every email you write is part of the public domain,” he said.
David Maass, an investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, expressed caution about Geofeedia.
“While gathering public information from social media can be an important emerging tool for journalists and researchers, it’s always a good idea to examine how law enforcement agencies are spying on open social networks,” Maass said in an email to VentureBeat.
The emergence of Geofeedia and its geotracking algorithms mean people who actually care will presumably begin sanitizing their Picasa posts in order to avoid that embarrassing “what were you thinking” chat with their boss. And it will make the cops’ job of tracking criminals that much easier, because outlaws use social media too.
So far, Geofeedia has raised $3.5 million in venture funding. And the way things are going, they will need more capital to build out the platform.
“We are an intelligence platform. We’re definitely growing. We are exploring different use cases, and the feedback has been extremely good,” Adelt said.
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