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Social Media Monitoring – Or Is It Surveillance?

by Jenny Sussin  |  October 17, 2016  |  2 Comments

Over the last week, there have been a series of articles dumping on one particular social media monitoring application that was allegedly using an unethical value proposition to market its solution: surveillance.

As one of Gartner’s social analytics analysts I’ve got to tell you, the tools that each vendor offers to the market could allow the exact same type of use. This isn’t in defense of any vendor nor is it meant to accuse any vendor or anything, this is just the fact of the matter. I’ve long told people that the data feeds that social analytics vendors access are not the differentiator in the social analytics equation, rather the way in which the vendor chooses to focus and present their analysis, is.

In the case of the vendor in question, they choose to plot the returns to their clients’ social media data queries on a map – but they’re not the only ones who do that. So if a vendor provides the tools, and a client chooses to use those tools in a way which is unethical, whose fault is it?

  • Is it the social network who hands over our information via an API – despite its terms and conditions of API use specifically noting that its data can not be used for individual surveillance?
  • Is it the vendor who provided the tools to spin that information into a dashboard where it could be used for surveillance?
  • Is it the client who chose to watch individuals’ posts?

It’s not like companies watching individuals over social media is something new. Marketers watch “influencers” all of the time. Sales people watch what their prospects and customers talk about to try and find an opening. I don’t mean to imply this is the same thing as surveilling protesters, but don’t influencers, prospects and customers have rights as well? Where is the line?

Category: analysis  analytics  privacy  social-crm  social-media  social-networks  

Tags: analysis  analytics  creepy  media  monitor  monitoring  privacy  social  surveillance  

Jenny Sussin
Research Director
6 years with Gartner
7 years IT industry

Jenny Sussin is a Research Director in the ITL Enterprise Software group of Gartner Research, with primary focus on social for CRM. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Social Media Monitoring – Or Is It Surveillance?


  1. Hi, Jenny: I agree that the tools to monitor keywords, entities, etc. are commodity. In my view and from my experience running a company in the space, the ethical responsibility lies with the analytics vendor to understand how they’re technology is being used. In a cloud-based world where the vendor controls the application instance, there is really no excuse for ignoring potentially harmful or even illegal use of said technology.

    Across the board I’m seeing a variety of technology vendors move into domestic law enforcement via analytics, drones, VR, etc. w/o having ethics training, guidelines or corporate governance in place. Short of there being legal frameworks or standards in place, it’s up to he vendors’ executive management to ensure they “do no harm”.

  2. Sorry, “their technology”. Typing too fast ;o)



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