The NYPD reportedly entered a nearly $9 million contract with Voyager Labs, a company previously sued by Meta for creating fake profiles to scrape user data; this was revealed by the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP).
The New York Police Department (NYPD) reportedly spent millions contracting with Voyager Labs, a firm previously sued by Meta over allegations of creating nearly 40,000 fake profiles to scrape data from around 600,000 users. The information, revealed by the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), shows that the NYPD entered a contract worth almost $9 million with Voyager Labs in 2018. The firm claims its products can leverage AI to analyze online human behavior to detect and potentially predict fraud and criminal activities. The NYPD renewed its contract with the company in 2021, paying over $1.6 million.
Separately, the Queens district attorney engaged with Cobwebs Technologies, an Israeli firm offering similar services including tracking location data through phones. The exact value of this contract remains undisclosed. Both law enforcement entities aim to enhance their social media analytics capabilities to better understand the vast amount of personal information on the internet. However, experts warn that such practices might cross ethical and legal boundaries, potentially infringing on privacy rights and bypassing the necessary legal processes to obtain personal information.
Voyager Labs allegedly assists law enforcement agencies in surveilling individuals by compiling and analyzing their digital footprints. The firm’s tools can map out a person’s social connections, including direct and “indirect” links, potentially unearthing unknown intermediaries or improper associations. The company also purportedly enables the creation of “avatars” or fake profiles to access otherwise unreachable information, a feature that has attracted criticism and legal actions from social media companies. Despite the lawsuit and having its access to Facebook and Instagram revoked, Voyager Labs reportedly created 17,000 new fake accounts, a claim the company denies.
The NYPD utilizes social network analysis tools to find information pertinent to investigations and address public safety issues, as per a 2021 report. These tools analyze publicly available data and information accessible due to user privacy settings or habits. While the exact usage of Voyager software by the NYPD remains unclear due to contract confidentiality, the department maintains that it leverages the tool to prevent victimization and catch offenders, denying any use of features predictive of future criminality. Meanwhile, Cobwebs Technologies adheres to strict privacy protection standards and regulations, including the EU’s GDPR, according to spokesperson AJ Guenther.