Periscope: A Look into the Live Streaming Services of a Social Media App

periscopeby the National White Collar Crime Center

Advancements in digital technology including devices such as smartphones, tablets, personal computers, and gaming devices have given society near constant and instant access online.  With the proliferation of technology has also come the evolution of online content, largely dominated today by social media giants Facebook®, Twitter®, and Instagram®.

In March 2015, Twitter acquired the live video streaming service called Periscope®. Periscope allows anyone with a Twitter account or mobile phone number to easily live stream from their iOS® or Android® devices.  Using a built-in smartphone microphone and camera, a user can broadcast uncensored audio and video to anyone who decides to view the broadcast.  Periscope also gives the broadcaster an option to share their location with viewers using the device’s GPS capabilities.

Because of the pervasive nature of social media in our culture today, Periscope is currently a very hot trend ranking within the top 10 in the free social networking category via the iTunes App Store. In just four months, Periscope announced it had surpassed 10 million users and reported that 40 years of video was watched per day. Periscope’s rapid growth has shown how beneficial it is to parent company Twitter.  The cross integration between the two applications allows Twitter to stay competitive within the social media industry.

However, because broadcasts can be private (restricted to just select viewers) any number of illegal acts could be broadcast to vetted viewers. Two recent incidents in Ohio highlight how Periscope can be used in nefarious ways.  In the first incident, the Columbus Police say a pair of men got on Periscope, made threats, and reported that if they received 100 viewers they would take an AR-15 and 30 rounds of ammo and begin randomly shooting in the city.  Viewers in the area took notice and proactively notified law enforcement leading to no shots being fired and arrests being made.  In the second incident, the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney stated that an 18-year-old female broadcast the rape of a 17-year-old female by her 29-year-old male friend on Periscope.

While Periscope can be used to broadcast criminal activity it is often used by news stations and even law enforcement agencies for positive and proactive purposes like public service announcements, AMBER alerts, community awareness, and education. Periscope could also be used to monitor crowd activity from a safe distance at sporting events, concerts, protests, and even riots.

The National White collar Crime Center, (NW3C) has published a white paper entitled, Periscope Briefing: “A Look into the Periscope Live Streaming Service” available at

This resource provides an in-depth look at the features and functions of the Periscope application and how quickly society is adopting the platform. It is important for law enforcement to be aware of the capabilities and uses of Periscope, as well as the methods of analyzing possible artifacts from both iOS and Android devices.

(Photo Credit: 955949206 copyright Andrey Popov, 2016 used under license from

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