News Corp subsidiary Storyful offers a browser plug-in called Verify that lets journalists quickly see whether the content they are viewing on social media–such as a video clip or photo–has been verified as legitimate. The service is unquestionably useful for journalists, but the Guardian has uncovered a darker side to the Verify plug-in. Any data journalists view on social media gets funneled into a Storyful Slack channel that about 40 of its employees have access to. This channel’s feed shows those employees everything that the journalists who use its plug-in are looking at on social media.
Former employees who worked at Storyful said the feed was described inside the company as a useful resource that could be mined by newsworthy, viral, or monetizable social media content that was first spotted by Storyful’s clients. Both former employees say they felt the feed was tantamount to spying on the activity of journalists–and not just what they viewed for work purposes. The employees said that sometimes the feed displayed what journalists were viewing on social media that wasn’t related to work, including the YouTube videos they watched and personal content from Facebook.
For its part, Storyful says it is not doing anything unethical, insisting it made “clear disclosures” how the data the Verify plug-in collects is used, saying, “Clear disclosures relating to privacy and the functionality of the tool are given to all Newswire users that opt to install the Verify extension prior to installation.”