Parler users unknowingly gave away their personal data in videos they uploaded illegally storming Capitol Hill

‘There is nothing you can do to prevent what’s already happened. All you can do is prepare for the fallout’ a message from the North Central Florida Patriots Telegram chat reads

Adam Smith
Monday 11 January 2021 14:31 GMT
Trump supporters clash with police on Capitol steps
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Insurrectionists that stormed Capitol Hill and uploaded videos to the right-wing social media app Parler gave away their GPS coordinates to the app.

That data has now been scraped and archived by researchers, who could use the data to help identify criminals.

Many rioters including the Proud Boys  - a Southern Poverty Law Center designated hate group – shared videos on the app, but hacker “@donk_enby” on Twitter has shown that the metadata (information about the content uploaded, such as number of megapixels in the videos or rotation) includes GPS positioning.

As such, it is likely that a number of people will have incriminated themselves as being part of the event, with information tying their Parler account to the scenes.

The hacker was previously working with academic researchers, helping them ingest Parler data, they told The Independent.

This morning, the Parler app was removed from the internet as Amazon pulled Amazon Web Services support from the social media site. 

Amazon Web Services provided server support to the app, but told Parler it had seen “a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms”.

Parler chief executive John Matze told Fox News that “every vendor from text message services to email providers to our lawyers all ditched us too” following Apple and Google removing the app from its stores.  

Despite Parler being effectively removed from the internet – left to find another hosting platform company to support it – many videos have been downloaded to be analysed.

Nearly 110,000 video URLs, approximately 57TB of data, had their content scraped and uploaded to The Internet Archive (which is unaffiliated with the project).

Moreover, Parler encourages users to hand over more identifying information than Facebook or Twitter. Users could previously upload identification – such as a drivers’ license – to the site in order to receive a “verified real person” badge, similar to Twitter’s blue tick.  

“[Law enforcement] can just subpoena AWS once people start digging through this stuff. remember: those people were dumb enough to give Parler photos of their IDs”, the hacker tweeted.  

It is unclear whether Parler users present at the Capitol Hill riots realised how much information was being passed to the company, or that such information may be held against them.  

“Bad news. Left extremists have captured and archived over 70TB of data from Parler servers. This includes posts, personal information, locations, videos, images etc. The intent is a mass dox and a list to hold patriots ‘accountable’. It is too late to scrub your data, and its already archived. There is nothing you can do to prevent what’s already happened. All you can do is prepare for the fallout”, a message purportedly from the North Central Florida Patriots Telegram chat shared with The Independent read.

“From [law enforcement’s], I think it will be useful for more people to start digging through this and point them in the right direction to find the actual evidence using a preservation order on Parler's servers from Amazon”, the hacker told The Independent.

“I think people should have a right to their opinion as long as they can act civilised and not get people killed. Platforms like Twitter have been overstepping it with automatic moderation tools and driving people to toxic echo chambers like Parler, which is also part of how we ended up here.”

The research will also be useful for OSINT (open-source intelligence) researchers who will be able to identify people from still frames or facial recognition algorithms.

Before it was shut down, Parler has approximately 12 million users. For context president Donald Trump has 90 million followers on Twitter, before his account was removed. 

Parler did not respond to a request for comment when contacted by The Independent.

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