70TB of Parler posts archived — may hold incriminating data

The Parler app's logo displayed on a smartphone screen and what might be a PC.
(Image credit: Ascannio/Shutterstock)

Look out, Parler users: Almost everything you posted on the since-shuttered social network, including deleted posts, has been archived and is now in the public domain.

That's the result of a group effort that saw dozens of people mass-downloading Parler posts before the service was taken offline this past weekend. Parler went dark Sunday (Jan. 10) after Amazon pulled the plug on the servers Parler was leasing. Parler has sued Amazon in an effort to get the service back up.

Parler is, or was, a fairly new social network that promised not to crack down on users advocating violence or expressing hate speech. It was popular among members of extreme-right-wing groups, and more generally among supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump. 

It's assumed that many of the thousands of rioters in the pro-Trump mob that stormed into the U.S. Capitol last week used Parler.

But don't call this data dump a leak, or even much of a hack. One of the leaders of the downloading project took to Twitter to clarify that the Parler data that was rapidly gathered, or "scraped," was already all online. 

"Only things that were available publicly via the web were archived," said Crash Override, aka @donk_enby. "I don't have you[r] e-mail address, phone or credit card number. Unless you posted it yourself on Parler."

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Crash Override — the handle is a shout-out to the 1995 movie Hackers — said a Reddit post that got a lot of views Sunday and Monday was wrong. That post, which has since been updated, said Parler's database had been broken into and personal information about Parler users downloaded. 

Parler apparently "verified" users who asked for that designation by making them send in images of their drivers' licenses and, in some cases, their Social Security numbers. Parler asked all users to provide a valid email address and phone number during the signup process.

However, Crash Override said she had none of that personal information, and that the truth was far less dramatic. 

She told Gizmodo that she had already reverse-engineered a Parler mobile app and found URLs that pointed to a publicly accessible archive of all Parler posts, including those that had been marked as deleted. 

On Jan. 6, the day of the Capitol Hill riot, she started mass-downloading Parler posts from that archive.

Calling out for help

After Google and Facebook removed Parler from their app stores Friday and Saturday (Jan. 8 & 9), Crash Override realized that Parler might not be up for much longer. She called out on Twitter for help in downloading Parler posts and got the mass download started. 

In the end, she said, about 70TB of Parler posts were archived, what Crash Override estimated were more than 99% of the Parler archive. 

Many posts contained photos and videos that still had metadata attached that indicated when and where the images were captured, a potential gold mine for investigators trying to piece together whether the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol last week was pre-planned.

[On Jan. 12, Gizmodo posted a follow-up story saying that GPS metadata from videos posted to Parler matched the movement of the mob in Washington on Jan. 6.]

The data was transferred to the Internet Archive, an online repository of old websites and material in the public domain. It's not yet ready for public browsing, but may be later this week.

However, the FBI and other law-enforcement organizations may not need the data that Crash Override and her team scraped. 

Because Parler may have been used to organize the Capitol Hill riot, it's safe to assume Amazon has preserved the data housed on the servers Parler leased. If Parler really did retain images of the drivers' licenses of its verified users, that's where they'd be, along with copies of everything Crash Override and her colleagues grabbed.

Paul Wagenseil

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at FoxNews.com, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.