The American Civil Liberties Union, its Northern California chapter, and the Brennan Center, are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Meta and X have broken commitments they made to protect customers from data brokers and government surveillance.
This concern goes back to 2016 when it came to light that Facebook and Twitter helped police target Black Lives Matter activists. As a result of protests by the ACLU of Northern California and other advocacy groups, both companies promised to strengthen their anti-surveillance policies and cut off access to social media surveillance companies. Their privacy promises even became points of pride in these companies’ advertising.
Now ACLU and Brennan say they have uncovered commercial documents from data brokers that seem to contradict these promises. They point to a host of data companies that publicly claim they have access to data from Meta and/or X, selling customers’ information to police and other government agencies.
ACLU writes: “These materials suggest that law enforcement agencies are getting deep access to social media companies’ stores of data about people as they go about their daily lives.”
While this case emerged from left-leaning organizations and concerns, organizations and people on the right have just as much reason for concern. The posts we make, what we say, who our friends are, can be very sensitive and personal information.
“Something’s not right,” ACLU writes. “If these companies can really do all that they advertise, the FTC needs to figure out how.”
At this point, we simply don’t know with certainty which, if any, social media platforms are permitting data brokers to obtain personal information from their platforms – information that can then be sold to the government. Regardless of the answer to that question, PPSA suggests that a thorough way to short-circuit any extraction of Americans’ most sensitive and personal information from data sales (at least at the federal level) would be to pass the strongly bipartisan Protect Liberty and End Warrantless Surveillance Act. This measure would force federal government agencies to obtain a warrant – as they should anyway under the Fourth Amendment – to access the data of an American citizen.