Surveillance capitalism has multiplied the number of eyes on us at all times. Ubiquity of security cameras, traffic cameras, and cell phones with cameras have made it possible for law enforcement to track a suspect’s movements for entire city blocks. And that’s not counting the omnipresent eye of social media, where photo and geo tags can assist law enforcement and private investigators with locating suspects, witnesses, and collect information about a location without having to leave the comfort of their offices in what is now called a “geosocial investigation.”
Before the age of geo-data on social media, employees who called off work on Friday to enjoy a three-day weekend in Atlantic City had no fears of being discovered on Monday by a nosy employer who checked their social media. When social media was in its formative years, a private investigator would be lucky to be scraping the social media of a subject who was indiscriminate about what they chose to post on their Myspace page. Nowadays, employees have to be more cautious regarding posts about their out-of-work activities than ever, with many employees maintaining two Facebook pages—a work Facebook populated by posts that would not offend the most fastidious human resource employee, and a personal Facebook where employees reveal themselves, warts and all, with no regard for who might see the pages. Now, the new reality of surveillance capitalism has changed the world of third-party investigations forever with the assistance of geosocial investigations.
Geosocial investigations are a subset of social media investigations, where the focus of the research centers around a place, rather than a single individual. After all, if you fraudulently submit an FMLA claim that prevents you from working, you’d be very careful not to post any pictures of yourself enjoying vigorous activities, like yard work or hiking. However, if you’re in a group of individuals—all with smartphones and social media profiles of their own—it’s nearly impossible to prevent all pictures of yourself from seeing the light of the internet. This newfound culture of hypervigilance and surveillance may sound like it’s harder for law enforcement and private investigators to squeeze blood from the stone of social media, but where individuals might be protective of their own information online, their friends and relatives may not.
Deriving information on a subject from the social media profiles of their friends and family is a major tenant of geosocial investigations. Exposure online is not limited to pictures. Social media widgets that allow users to check in at specific locations, or add geotags to the photos they post, are also exposing malingering employees during internal investigations. Law enforcement can use this technology to search for social media posts geotagged at the time of an auto-accident in order to locate witnesses. By the same token, they can use it to identify people who are posting in restricted areas where civilians are not allowed. The effect of this technology allows a private investigator to “crowdsource” the information, saving themselves hours of tracking down witnesses and interviewing them.
Geo-social investigations are just one consequence of the world’s newfound surveillance capitalism. As the technology continues to mature and become more sophisticated, social media will continue to expose criminals and malingerers. Employers will see a rise in the exposure of employees abusing FMLA claims. Former employees violating non-compete agreements will be exposed before they have a chance to get a new business venture off the ground. Law enforcement and private investigators will be able to crowdsource investigations with the use of geo-social data.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communications Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. For more information please visit our website.