“The Man” Is Looking At Your Social Media Posts

I want to bring you two stories from the CBC to highlight the fact that when you post to social media, nothing that you post is private. Ever.

Let’s start with this story where the Canada Revenue Agency is apparently monitoring social media to figure out if Canadian Taxpayers are cheating on their taxes. Presumably by people tweeting out pictures of their new car or boat that was bought with money that they owe to the taxman. Here’s what the Canada Revenue Agency has to say on this:

“The CRA does practice risk-based compliance, so for taxpayers identified as high risk, any relevant, publicly available information relating to the specific risk-based factors for the taxpayer may be consulted as part of our fact-gathering processes,” said spokesperson David Walters.

Among those considered high risk are wealthy Canadians with offshore bank accounts, said Jean-François Ruel, director of CRA’s Strategy and Integration Branch.

“If we go with high-risk, high-wealth individuals that do offshore [banking], then we would look at all information that is public for compliance action.”

But here’s the problem according to someone who spends all day every day looking at this stuff:

However, David Christopher, of the advocacy group Open Media, said his organization opposes government agencies monitoring what Canadians are saying on social media.

“When Canadians post something on Facebook, they believe that they are sharing that with their friends and with their family. They don’t believe that they are sharing that with some government bureaucrat in Ottawa,” he said.

“Unfortunately, Facebook’s privacy settings are notoriously complex and many people might think that they are posting something to their friends and it ends up getting shared with the whole world.”

My thoughts on this are that while this is problematic, it doesn’t cross the line into a place where it is offensive for reasons I will get to in a minute. But having said that, let’s take this discussion to the next level. This CBC story details a London Ontario based company who created software that violated Twitters terms of service to mine data on behalf of law enforcement:

A London, Ont., data mining company has been banned from Twitter and is being reviewed by Facebook for selling surveillance software to North American police services to monitor people at Black Lives Matter events and other public protests.

Media Sonar lost its Twitter privileges in October after it was revealed that the firm was in violation of the social media giant’s privacy policies.

“If Media Sonar creates other API keys [to connect with Twitter], we will terminate those as well and take further action as appropriate,” wrote Twitter spokesperson Nu Wexler. 

Public documents obtained through access to information requests show the company billed itself to police forces as the “only vendor that allows public safety agencies to view social accounts covertly.”

It also provided at least one police force in California with a list of keywords and hashtags, including #blacklivesmatter and #Weorganize, to help with “proactive policing.” 

Now this clearly crosses the line and is clearly offensive. Unlike the Canada Revenue Agency who walked up to the line because they were going after people that they would be investigating anyway through other means, Media Sonar went after anyone and turned that info over to the cops if they said the wrong thing on Twitter. Thus anyone could get roped up in this company’s dragnet. That’s a #EpicFail because while you shouldn’t expect to have privacy in a public forum like social media, you shouldn’t expect to be spied on either if you’ve done nothing wrong. Hopefully this award winning company loses some of those awards and gets the message that this is a far from acceptable as you can get.

It should also send a clear message to users of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. You are being watched. It may not be right, but it is the case. Govern yourself accordingly.

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